Tuesday, December 30, 2008

God bless us, every one

Geez, I go away for a few days and the world goes to shit. I think Rob Farley wins for "capsule description of the current mess in Palestine":

I really have to wonder whether the Israelis have something more in mind that "2006 II: The Re-FAILening".
When Israel invaded Lebanon, I was asked what I thought and said Israel would be at least as successful in Lebanon as America was in Iraq. Given that the Israelis decided to leave much sooner, I counted that as being substantially more successful. There seems to be no real chance of "victory" in Gaza any more than there was a real chance at victory in Lebanon. Even in the maximally-optimistic scenario where Israel invades Gaza, kills or detains the Hamas leadership, and then withdraws with minimal casualties, the likely outcome is Gaza in anarchy or, slightly more optimistic, ruled by Fatah which, if memory serves, was so corrupt and intransigent that Israel's partners in Washington insisted on the elections that put us on the road to this place.

Also, I'm far more alarmed about what's going on in the subcontinent right now. Not because things are as bad, but because they have the potential to get so much worse.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Baby please come home

Merry Christmas, everyone. And while we're at it, my favourite West Wing scene, maybe ever:

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

That was... bracing

Toronto to Ottawa during a blinding winter rainstorm: not fun.

Most unintentionally funny moment: the sign appearing and disappearing in the pea-souper for just a moment which said, "fog possible".

Deep thought

The lyrics to "baby it's cold outside" continue to not age well.

But if you think I'm a stick in the mud, Sayyid Qutb really didn't like it...

20 wasted years

I must have missed it when the anniversary passed in the summer, because it just occurred to me that 2008 marks 20 years since the Toronto Conference on the Changing Atmosphere. That would be the one that declared (PDF) that "humanity is conducting an unintended, uncontrolled, globally pervasive experiment whose ultimate consequences could be second only to a global nuclear war."

The TCCA recommended a 20% cut in CO2 emissions... by 2005.

And people wonder why I'm pretty sure we're doomed.

I'm sure there are no connections

Gosh. You know, I thought in 2008 -- almost 2009! -- that men would have the good sense not to say such things in public.
Compared to most womens sexual nature, mens sexual nature is far closer to that of animals. So what? That is the way he is made. Blame God and nature. Telling your husband to control it is a fine idea. But he already does. Every man who is sexually faithful to his wife already engages in daily heroic self-control. He has married knowing he will have to deny his sexual natures desire for variety for the rest of his life. To ask that he also regularly deny himself sex with the one woman in the world with whom he is permitted sex is asking far too much. Deny him enough times and he may try to fill this need with another woman. If he is too moral to ever do that, he will match your sexual withdrawal with emotional and other forms of withdrawal.
Okay. There are many ways to attack this kind of reasoning, but I'm gonna go with the most fun.

Dennis, your wife stopped sleeping with you because you look like this.

And you know why she's 100% certain you're never gonna sleep with someone else? Because you look like this.



Tuesday, December 23, 2008

My pseudo-niece* learns to talk from puppets with crippling addictions

Best. Kid. Ever.

*"Pseudo" until the wedding.

More than you wanted to know

Mike's tagged me, so here goes: every paying employment I've had thus far in life:

1) Summer help in the office of then-city councillor Betty Disero. Probably the most notable thing I did was go through newspapers looking for clippings. Ms. Disero and I still talk once in a while, and she kindly agreed to an interview last year as part of my schoolwork.

2) 2 years as clerk/light repair-person at Long & McQuade Musical Instruments. (Bloor and Ossington branch, before they opened the 2nd building, if you're wondering.) Learned that a soldering iron can lead to pain unless you respect it.

After about 2 years at L&M, realized I was a teenage guy working with nothing but middle-aged dudes. Decided to find a workplace with attractive women my own age. This led to...

3) 2 years at the Eaton's Centre Indigo, where I met the girl who would later become my fiancee. Mission fucking accomplished.

Then I left Indigo to finish high school, which had up to that point not been a high priority. (Got my first handful of As in OAC [Ontario's old Grade 13] which paved the way for entry to university and scholarships!)

After finishing my OACs,

4) A year as a Starbuck Barista, at a particularly obnoxious location at 110 Bloor West. You've never served more obnoxious customers as part of your daily life until you've tried to keep track of which decaf-non-fat-lactaid-sugar-free-vanilla-latte goes with which customer. Also, opening a Starbucks location at 530 in the morning sucks worse than anything else I've ever done. Briefly worked at a Starbucks at Bank and 3rd in Ottawa before deciding it wasn't worth it while I was trying to maintain As at Carleton to maintain my scholarship.

Then it turned out that maintaining As wasn't exactly the Herculean labour I'd anticipated, so I went back to work in the next summer, returning to bookselling at a Coles location in Ottawa. (Merivale Mall.) Did that for two years, came to Toronto for a summer, went back to work at a different Coles for the last year of University at Billings Bridge. (At the time I had a great manager who was happy to see me return, even if it was only for the 7-8 months of my last year.)

In between those two stores I worked briefly for a marketing company that specialized in harassing pedestrians on the streets of Toronto. Didn't last long, but I did collect a total of 1 paycheck before we parted ways.

After finishing up at Carleton I worked for a summer in the office of an Ontario Liberal MPP and Cabinet member. Was a really good time, met a lot of people, but -- and I say this having made some real friends there -- I concluded that working within government probably wasn't for me. I also concluded that the enduring problem of the Liberal Party has a lot to do with the attitudes of Young Liberals. A high point was having a young Liberal explain to me how a) he totally wasn't racist, but b) the First Nations deserve all their problems. (Not representative by any means, but disillusioning nonetheless.) Oh, and I asked the Premier a question I was later told was impertinent, but at the time seemed normal to me.

Then I spent a spell of time "between opportunities" while I worked on trying to find a job that wouldn't suck, and applied to Ryerson University. I was eventually accepted at Ryerson and almost simultaneously hired at a job that still kind of sucks -- I am a bookseller once more in downtown Toronto. Not at Indigo at least...

Oh, and last summer I interned at the Globe and Mail. Technically, I was paid.

So by far the most time has been spent selling books, in both big-box and small stores. I still remember vaguely how to hold a soldering iron (hot end goes down, right?) but was never exactly a prodigy on that front. And I can still order a Starbucks drink in the proper fashion, and even vaguely consider going back every once in a while (the money is pretty good, if you have a high tolerance for holding your tongue.)

I've omitted two jobs for which I never collected a paycheck, because I was only employed very briefly. In one case it was a matter of hours before I reached my "fuck this noise" threshold. Another one lasted whole days.

I tag Vicki, Chet, Flocons, and Xiao Pangzi. Nobody is expected to go on at such length about as little as I did.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Can't anybody here play this game?

American capitalism = broken. When you can't even sell cars without turning the entire thing in to a gigantic, financially opaque clusterfuck, you no longer deserve the label "market economy". What you are is a bunch of jumped-up loan sharks.

I'm, like, eleventy trillion years old

This weekend my father started texting me. And there I was impotently clutching my cellphone, wondering "well now what the hell do I do?"

Yes, I'm a text-a-phobe. Email, fine. Phone, fine. But texting? Creeps me right the fuck out.

But not my boomer father, apparently.

My hips hurt.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Nobody could have predicted

You know, for about... oh, at least a decade I've been saying that the stock market was nothing but a giant casino, and a crooked one at that, and the money invested there couldn't possibly be creating real value in the economy commensurate with the attention that was being paid to it.

Now I have a fake-Nobelist on my side.

Still, these people clearly deserved their trillion-dollar bailout, while the autoworkers deserve to starve.

One of the things that will mark a return to sanity is a much smaller, poorer financial sector. Something approximately half the current size, where million-dollar compensations are exceedingly rare, would be an indicator that the financial sector has been put in it's proper place. Of course, any effort to do this rationally (i.e., as part of a conscious policy) will be labelled Marxism and dismissed. Which means 1) it will happen anyway, but more painfully than necessary, or 2) it won't happen at all, and we'll just set ourselves up for another round of bubble-and-trouble in 10 years time.

Back to hope, kinda

I should say that despite the whole Rick Warren mess, I have been very happy with Obama's appointments in the energy-environment parts of his government (with the exceptions of Salazar and Vilsack, whom I'm merely "meh" about. And yes, Secretary of Agriculture is both energy and environment-related.) In particular, John Holdren as President's Science Advisor is an excellent, excellent choice, and people are rightly raving about Steven Chu as Sec. of Energy. Just the fact of having some of the best scientists in the world contributing to the President's understanding of climate change and the energy revolution we need is a stunning change from the Bush years. When you compare Holdren's view on climate change -- which are about as pessimistic as mine, God help the rest of you -- to the current occupant's Sciene Advisor, who's been at the helm of the Bush Administration's war on science, well, I think we're looking at a much better place.

So I'm optimistic that Barack Obama has appointed people who are about as terrified of the future as I am. What that means for the rest of you is less clear.

Thursday, December 18, 2008


Somehow, I can't get outraged at Obama's pick for America's Pastor. I mean, I find Warren's hypocrisy and bigot-but-not-in-a-bigoted-way schtick outrageous, but what else did we really expect from Obama? I refer you to what I wrote when I first decided that Obama was the candidate I least wanted to lose:
So I'm left with Obama. Squishy, vague, homophobe-coddling, coal-supporting Obama. Right on the war -- and that earns him so much from me, much more than Edwards' learning curve -- but wrong on a lot of other things. But not a Clinton, and seems the best suited to actually grow the ranks of the Democratic Party.
I've been more and less enthusiastic about Obama since, but I think my first take on him was fundamentally correct. People who supported Obama thinking they'd get 4-8 years of a dude stomping on right-wing faces supported the wrong guy. It's not Obama's character and it's not his politics. He seems to get along with Warren, and thinks he can help bridge divides. I think that's naive, and I think he'll learn otherwise quickly. But for now, yes, we get a man who thinks legalized gay marriage leads inevitably to statutory rape in the streets delivering the invocation at the inauguration of Barack Obama. Who's all about hope and change and shit.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Bussard Fusion looking more promising

So EMC2 -- the company Robert Bussard started to prove his fusion power concept -- has completed a small-scale test of Bussard's original design. This was the design that Bussard completely tested and got positive results shortly before the contract ran out, and spent the next year trying to drum up funding to continue his work. He died before the work could begin again, but the first results since EMC2 restarted are, apparently, quite promising:
By and large, the EMC2 results fit Bussard's theoretical predictions, Nebel said. That could mean Polywell fusion would actually lead to a power-generating reaction. But based on the 10-month, shoestring-budget experiment, the team can't rule out the possibility that a different phenomenon is causing the observed effects.

"If you want to say something absolutely, you have to say there's no other explanation," Nebel said. The review board agreed with that conservative assessment, he said.

The good news, from Nebel's standpoint, is that the WB-7 experiment hasn't ruled out the possibility that Polywell fusion could actually serve as a low-cost, long-term energy solution. "If this thing was absolutely dead in the water, we would have found out," he said.
I've never been so adamantly anti-nuclear that I couldn't support something new and better, and damn if IEC fusion doesn't fit that bill nicely.

One open question is whether it will perform quite as well as is hoped. For example, it might be able to fuse a deuterium-tritium reaction (one of the easiest) but not Hydrogen-Boron (more difficult, but doesn't produce many neutrons and thus doesn't need as much shielding.) If D-T fusion is the best we can do, a heavy neutron source might still have its uses, like this bright idea from MIT: hybrid nuclear power that can safely dispose of the nuclear waste from conventional reactors and nuclear weapons. If, in the far future, we run out of nuclear waste to dispose of, the design could run on natural or depleted uranium as well.

EEStor has a new patent


It seems strange to have spent literally years keeping my eyes and ears open for tiny scraps of information about this company, but there's literally nothing that comes close to the potential that EEStor claims. ZENN promised they would take posession of the first production unit from EEStor before the end of 2008, and part of me wonders if this isn't the event that would keep them from announcing it.

I want to believe....

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Don't celebrate yet: Ignatieff is under-performing Dion

Jeez, another positive poll and the Liberals are already celebrating their impending conquest.

Allow me to provide two data points for what I hope will be sober reflection.

1) From December 13th of this year:
OTTAWA–Newly appointed Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff is in a virtual tie with Prime Minister Stephen Harper as the person Canadians think would be the best to lead the country, a new poll exclusive to the Star reveals.

Ignatieff tops the list of party leaders Canadians would prefer as prime minister, with 28 per cent of respondents naming him the best head of government, according to the Toronto Star/Angus Reid survey....

The survey also shows the Liberals rise to 31 per cent in voting intentions – an increase of nine percentage points since earlier this month, and the Conservatives drop five percentage points to 37 per cent in the same period.
Okay, so that's right after Ignatieff's selection and people haven't gotten to know him, right?

2) From December 4, 2006's Globe and Mail (no link, it's from Lexis-Nexis.)
The Liberals have moved six percentage points ahead of Stephen Harper's Tories, while a sizable majority of Quebeckers say the Liberals made a good choice, according to the survey conducted by the Strategic Counsel for The Globe and Mail and CTV.

The poll was taken in the hours after the dramatic convention, where Mr. Dion, teaming up in an alliance with fellow candidate Gerard Kennedy, surged past front-runner Michael Ignatieff and Bob Rae to claim the Liberal crown.

It shows that if an election were held today, the Liberals led by Mr. Dion would garner 37 per cent of the vote, compared with 31 per cent for the Conservatives. The NDP polled 14 per cent, the Bloc Québécois 11 per cent, and the Green Party 7.
Just to clear that up:

Early Dion poll -- Liberals 37, Conservatives 31.
Early Iggy poll -- Liberals 31, Conservatives 37.

This is called data, people. If you've got numbers of your own, by all means bring 'em. But I think the bar Ignatieff needs to clear is a poll showing +6 Liberal support.

Now, I think it's fair to say that this is an apples-and-oranges comparison, seeing as Dion inherited a party with a much shinier brand than Ignatieff has. Nevertheless, the point is this: the new guy always looks good. Dion looked good. John Tory looked good here in Ontario. Both have found the results of elections to be disappointing.

Maybe Ignatieff will display more political acumen than I've seen thus far, and help re-build the badly tarnished brand that he's inherited. But -- so far -- there's absolutely zero evidence that Ignatieff has repaired anything. Liberals jumping for joy at the arrival of their saviour need to put their heads down and take a few deep breaths.

Monday, December 15, 2008

How have you forgotten?

Alright, so if you haven't seen it already, here's the video:

Some thoughts:

1) Bush has some decent reflexes, I'll give him that.

2) Stop asking where the Secret Service was. This was not a national security threat. It was a dude throwing a loafer. More than that, we know where the USSS was: in the room. You know why the USSS didn't leap in to action? Because everyone in the room had already been wanded, frisked, and IDed. Nobody was able to bring a gun, explosive, or blade in to that room. So the USSS didn't anticipate a fearsome shoe attack. Big deal.

3) This is the dumbest thing I've ever seen Tom Schaller write, unfortunately.
Look: Bush has wreaked havoc on Iraq. Death, dismemberment, disfiguring, displacement and political disarray are all part of his tragic legacy. Al-Zaidi has many legitimate reasons to be angry.

But his actions and the subsequent lionizing of him are not helpful. If anything, the incident created sympathy for Bush (myself included, yes), who is on his way out the door and doesn't deserve it -- all so that one television journalist, acting unprofessionally, can draw attention to himself. And don't say he did it to draw attention to the plight of Iraqi widows and orphans. Americans, and the world, know what's going on in Iraq, even if some prefer to ignore it.
In a similar vein, this level of obtuseness in the NYT:
Maythem al-Zaidi said his brother had not planned to throw his shoes prior to Sunday. “He was provoked when Mr. Bush said [during the news conference] this is his farewell gift to the Iraqi people,” he said. A colleague of Muntader al-Zaidi’s at al-Baghdadiya satellite channel, however, said the correspondent had been “planning for this from a long time. He told me that his dream is to hit Bush with shoes,” said the man, who would not give his name.

Muntader al-Zaidi appears to have a long-standing dislike of the United States presence in Iraq. He used to finish his reports by saying he was in “the occupied Baghdad.” His brother said that he hates the occupation so strongly that he canceled his wedding, saying: “I will marry when the occupation is over.”
Did the NYT truly think that their audience needed to be told that some Iraqis are still upset over that whole "wrongfully invaded your country" business?

Some people seem to truly not grasp that George W. Bush's imminent departure from power, at his leisure and not being chased by either whips or warrants, is the most offensive end to this tale possible. George W. Bush is a war criminal who is going to get away with it. Torture, wiretaps, suppression of dissent and the deaths of more than a million people -- all of it unpunished.

And I'm supposed to be confused, or even upset, that someone threw a shoe at him? Bush deserves a trial and a lengthy imprisonment, not my sympathy.

I'm confused and ashamed that anyone still needs to be reminded that yes, the Iraq War is an obscenity and yes, people all over the world are still horrified by it. I'm even more ashamed that the nominal leader of a "progressive" coalition in my country is a man who was one of the war's most prominent, even ardent supporters outside of the American government.

In case you were wondering, that's why I've been cranky for the last little while.

This is what you get for trusting the Wall Street Journal, folks

Atrios and K-Drum are all a-twitter over an article in the WSJ about the future of net neutrality. I didn't even bother reading the thing because I assume the WSJ is full of crap 95% of the time, and I'm not wasting my time to filter out the 5%. Short version: I happen to have Lessig right here, and the WSJ is lying about Lessig's views.  Which makes me think they put about as much effort in to the rest of the story.

This really is very simple: Lessig said at a conference recently that large service providers should be able to pay for higher bandwidth, provided that ability is open to everyone. This is what Lessig has always said, and any reporter who's doing reporting on the Internet could have taken 30 seconds to learn both.

Considering the reporter in question seems to have not even bothered to call Lessig to clarify his views, I call bullshit on the entire piece. It's this last bit that's most galling: academics are pretty approachable, and aren't shy about talking when they've changed their minds. If Lessig had, you could have asked him, Kumar and Rhoads.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Stop, just stop, please stop

When Ignatieff supporters favourably compare their man to Barack Obama, I just don't know what to say. It's the kind of "words mean what I want them to mean" nonsense that, frankly, I've come to expect from Republicans. About the only thing the two men have in common is some time at Harvard. Note even then that Obama was a student, and Ignatieff was a professor.

Exactly what point of similarity is there between the two men? Their views on the Iraq war, or the consistency of those views? Their views on torture? Their histories with their respective political parties? Their charisma? Their demonstrated political acumen? (Note: Obama's habit of "winning" and Ignatieff's one demonstration of "losing" are, in fact, very different things. If you don't believe me, look it up in the dictionary.)

Finally, there's the obvious point that Obama won his candidacy, and his election, in the face of real, nearly-insurmountable challenges. (The primaries really were a very close thing.) Obama had to fight for every vote, and he did, and he won. Ignatieff has had the red carpet rolled out for him twice now, and the second time the party conspired to make sure nobody could interfere with his nomination. The closest parallel here is not to Obama, but to Clinton c. Fall-winter 2007, as the front-runner's campaign locked up early endorsements and money, but before the Obama campaign emerged as the serious challenged in Iowa. Now imagine that somehow Clinton had managed to short-circuit the DNC and win the nomination before even the Iowa Caucuses, and you'll have some idea of what Michael Ignatieff has done in the last few weeks.

Look, I know in some ways it's a branding exercise, but for God's sake we're talking about current events here: 2008 is still happening, and it's kind of insulting to be told that up is down, black is white, and that a patrician carpet-bagger is the same thing as the President-elect. I have eyes, and ears, and they're all attached to a brain that functions moderately well. To try and convince me of things that are manifestly untrue starts at tiresome and very quickly becomes aggravating.

As you can tell.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The party of "Trust, but verify"

Bush has even managed to fuck up NASA. Mike Griffin is the current head of the space agency:
“Mike, I don’t understand what the problem is. We are just trying to look under the hood,” Garver said.

“If you are looking under the hood, then you are calling me a liar,” Griffin replied. “Because it means you don’t trust what I say is under the hood.
We're all FEMA now.

Some more thoughts on Ignatieff, the Liberals, etc.

Okay, I get why the Liberal Party decided that it couldn't handle a leadership campaign right now. To call this party "traumatized" might even be too kind. Whether it's the sheer fact of having lost three times in a row now, or the additional trauma of Stéphane Dion's poor choices as leader, many people in the party leadership have concluded that now isn't the time for something as messy as democracy to break out in party ranks. And -- I want to stress this part -- they might be correct.

But let's not pretend for a minute that there aren't costs as well as benefits to forgoing a leadership process. First -- and most importantly -- it would have given Ignatieff the chance to work on, or demonstrate, his political skills. His last leadership race was successful only to the extent that it united his opponents against him, something he and Stephen Harper have in common.

Imagine what the recent US election would have been like if the DNC had decided to give Hillary Clinton the nomination sometime before the Iowa caucuses. I think we'd all be talking about President-elect McCain right now. Not because I think Clinton is a bad politician, but I think that absent the strong challenge from the Obama campaign, her bid would never have gotten even half as strong as it was. (And of course, it wasn't the strongest bid in play.)

Politics really isn't unlike any other field of human activity: you get good at it by working hard. In his last leadership bid, Ignatieff didn't work hard, instead believing that the strength of the Liberal machine would make him leader, even if it took a few ballots. A leadership process would have given Ignatieff the opportunity to actually earn the leadership he now holds, instead of having it handed to him by a terrified, shivering party.

Do you think that Harper keeps beating the Liberals by accident? Look at the record: before Harper led his party to minority government in 2006, Harper had run in two separate leadership contests in 2002 and 2004 and humbled Paul Martin in 2004. He's gotten good at this by working hard at it, and whatever else we can say about Harper he didn't have these things handed to him. He's within a hair's breadth of having a majority in Parliament, and it's about time that Liberals realize what's truly terrifying about Harper is that he's beating them fair and square. The party of Chretien the brawler is getting their ass handed to them, something I never thought I would see.

A leadership process would have also given Liberals the chance to energize their grassroots once more. It's difficult to remember back in the days of yore, immediately after Dion was elected, how excited the Liberal grassroots were. That fact, and the fact that it was never really capitalized on, stand as probably the most damning thing about the Dion years.

In all of this, I'd like to say that my distaste for Ignatieff doesn't blind me to the realities of Canadian politics, and if he wins the next election to become Prime Minister I will be right their in line thanking him for relieving us of the current one. Let's just say I'm not optimistic at this point.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Things I don't get

I) The absolute, unshakable conviction that so many pundits have that the NDP cannot, under any circumstances whatsoever from now until the heat death of the universe, form a federal government. In the mind of these people, the acceptable policy spectrum in Canada ranges from moonbat-crazy wingnut like Jim Flaherty [1] to... mushy centrist (and imperialism apologist) Michael Ignatieff. (I think Ignatieff's particular brand of support for the Iraq War marks him as a rightist, but whatever. And no, he doesn't get to walk away from it. Not until the dead tell me they forgive him.) [2]

II) The belief, popular today, that Ignatieff will lead the Liberal party to victory in the next election. I actually think this is crazy, and not just because I have a hard time listening to the man speak. He has the charisma of an empty bucket, his ideas have had world-historical-disastrous consequences, and the entirety of his resumé so far amounts to A) not actually caring for this country much [3] until he thought the top job was open, and B) losing the only serious political contest he's ever faced. To Stéphane Dion.

Given my luck with political predictions, Liberals can take this as a blessing when I say: Stephen Harper has beaten better politicians than Michael Ignatieff, and in the next election I would be unsurprised to see Harper win a majority. I've tried to be as consistent in noting when I'm wrong as I have been consistently wrong (ugh, awful sentence) so if Ignatieff wins I'm sure somebody in comments can think of an appropriate humiliation for me. I suggest I be forced -- forced, I say -- to drink expensive, delicious beer.

III) This idea, according to CTV:
Fife also said senior Liberals have told him that they may not need a coalition to form a new government.

"If they do defeat the Conservative government ... Ignatieff will go to the Governor General and say 'We think we can form the government but we don't have to do it with a coalition,'" Fife said.

Fife noted that the NDP and Bloc would have to support the Liberals because they already have expressed opposition to the Conservative government.
I really, truly don't get how the Liberals think they could go to the GG having violated a signed agreement with the opposition and promise her any kind of stability. But it will keep the dirty fucking hippies of the NDP out of power, so no doubt the Globe and Mail will like it.

[1] Flaherty proposed criminalizing homelessness, and is regarded as a serious person competent to be our finance minister. Jack Layton rightly noted that Paul Martin's spending cuts had the consequence of leading to more homeless people dying on the streets of Toronto, and was pilloried. Your fair and balanced media at work.

[2] You remember how the Democrats ran this candidate -- Barry O-something, I believe -- who opposed the Iraq War and managed to capitalize on that because his country was sick of being run by maniacs? Good work, Liberals, on totally ignoring that example.

[3] Caring for and caring about are two different concepts. I'm sure Ignatieff cares about Canada, I'm just not sure he likes it very much. Ignatieff had opportunities that few people have, and I don't blame him for taking them. But if I have to hear him talk about how much he loves Canada, how everything he's doing he's doing for Canada, when he couldn't be bothered to, y'know, live here for most of his adult life, I may spend the next few months retching. Watching alleged journalists trip all over their tongues to write mash-note doggerel like this is going to be bad enough.

The secret to comedy is timing

So Frost/Nixon came out last weekend, reminding North American audiences about the deep criminality of the Nixon administration. So what does George W. Bush do?

Give Chuck Colson -- one of the several convicted felons of the Nixon White House -- a medal.


Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Common crooks

It's astonishing how criminally stupid, and stupidly criminal, elected politicians can be.

Consider that the Illinois governor had to have known he was already being watched and listened to, and he still went out soliciting bribes to fill only the most-watched Senate seat in America at the moment.

Yeesh. Good riddance.

This seems unwise to me, but whatever...

CBC sez Rae's out, clearing the way for Iggy.

I do hope that the news a new leader doesn't blind Liberals to the structural problems their party faces.

Monday, December 08, 2008

This could explain more than I mean it to

Did I just finish all of my assignments? No.

Did I just finish most of my assignments? No.

Did I finish even one of my assignments? No.

I have, however, just finished the first draft of the assignment that was causing me the most stress this term.

And that, my friends, is why it's beer fucking o'clock.

A driveway pistol-whipping, like in Goodfellas

This is actually kind of sad. The thuds and screams started behind closed doors, but it's pretty much out in the open now: Dion is probably out this week, Ignatieff is probably in, and wtf does Rae do then? Like Ignatieff, he seems to have joined the party with the expectation that it would be a short trip to the leader's chair. Does he stick around to play second-fiddle to Iggy? And what do the Liberals do with the coalition now?

One piece of advice would be to listen to the people who might actually vote for you:
A pre-election coalition?
Respondents were asked to ponder a scenario in which the Liberals and the NDP formed a pre-election coalition that would present a single slate of candidates in the entire country, where Grits and New Democrats would not run against each other in the same riding.

Two-in-five Canadians (40%) like this idea, but 45 per cent are opposed. The highest level of support for this concept comes from respondents who voted for the Liberals (67%), the Bloc (67%) and the NDP (59%) in the last federal election, with Green supporters (36%) and Conservative voters (19%) clearly less enthused.
A single slate would be the height of simplicity: the Liberals and NDP agree not to run against their incumbents, and apportion the remaining seats based on who came 2nd to the Tories outside of Quebec. In Quebec, there's the thornier question of what to do with the Bloc, but I'm tempted to say they should stay out of the coalition. This has the advantage of being popular and pragmatic: I don't think the Bloc would be seriously threatened in many of their seats by a combined Liberal-NDP vote, unless Ignatieff seriously resucitates Liberal fortunes in Quebec. When 60-70% of your supporters back this kind of initiative, it's really a no-brainer, especially if we're thrust in to an election that the Liberals aren't remotely prepared for.

That said, I have an extremely low opinion of Michael Ignatieff, so a no-brainer might be beyond him...

Friday, December 05, 2008


Capsule review: An ably-produced movie that left a sour taste in my mouth. The performances are fine, with Frank Langella only over-doing the Nixon thing once or twice. The problem with the movie isn't the movie, it's the story that Ron Howard is trying to tell: He literally has its characters say "I want to give Nixon the trial he never got" or something like that. In this retelling, Frost is a prosecutor, the camera is a judge, and the audience is the jury. But dammit, the state and the people are two different things, and humiliating Nixon is not the same thing as prosecuting him. One may make us feel better, but the other actually would have served justice.

At the end of the movie, Howard has a narrator say "Nixon certainly never got the rehabilitation he wanted..." which is just claptrap. The man got his rehabilitation in spades, and even today it's considered bad form to talk about Nixon without mentioning all his wonderful "accomplishments" in foreign policy -- a sin the film itself is guilty of. It's like praising Otto von Bismarck because he helped start a welfare state. Or for that matter praising George W. Bush for his work saving lives.

Ron Howard, of all people, isn't equipped to make a movie calling a spade a spade -- properly noting that the Nixon era constitutes the failure of the US constitution as total as can be imagined.

Unravelling, or not, who knows

So, is the coalition going to survive or not? Anybody who knows at this point isn't saying, and people who are saying simply don't know. A lot of people are passing around this Paul Wells quote:
I hope I have made it clear since the summer that I have come to believe Stephen Harper is turning into a really bad prime minister. He is incoherent, vicious and unserious. His fall update was idiocy on stilts, and when he sent his transport minister out two days later to disown the work of his finance minister, nobody in the country blinked because nobody in the country takes what this government does as a government seriously.

All the opposition had to do was come up with a better alternative. They have failed. This is a depressing moment in our nation’s politcs.
Obviously I agree, but I think people are overplaying the idea that something actually happened yesterday. Or, more precisely, people seem to have convinced themselves that somehow the GG's actions were a failure of the coalition in particular, and of Dion in general. Wells is reacting to a couple of polls, but we already knew that Canadians found the prospect of a Dion-led government unsettling. (They didn't really warm to the idea over the last election, did they?) I've said from the beginning that I had serious reservations about this coalition, but it's not like Dion did anything yesterday to make it better or worse. He really wasn't a factor yesterday, and neither was anyone except the GG.

It may seem silly to some that one of the things the pundits can't stop talking about is the damn tape quality from Wednesday night, but it really isn't. Consider that Barack Obama's main goal during the election was to convey a sense of security, predictability, and more than anything competence. To do this, one of the things his campaign produced was a 30-minute, lavishly produced video that executed a transition to a live event (a technically difficult feat) and executed it flawlessly.

Stephane Dion had much the same task as Obama. He offered us a five-minute video of risible quality. Out of focus. Late. And he still mangled his lines.

This is an unfair comparison, but don't think for a moment it didn't have an impact.

From here on out, I expect this to go something like this: sometime in December we will hear a muffled scream and a loud thud from the offices of the Liberal Party of Canada, and an announcement will follow that Stephane Dion has decided to spend more time with the fishes his family. Bob Rae, having wrapped himself in the coalition's flag too tightly, will suddenly find a party that is asking, impolitely, that he and Dominic Leblanc step aside for Michael Ignatieff. Ignatieff will maintain the pretense that the coalition is still on, until the Conservatives present a budget in January. Ignatieff will ruefully announce that he's determined the Conservatives have changed their ways, this budget is good enough for the Liberal Party, and there will be no need for the coalition for now. The threat will nominally still be there, but Harper will have won the day.

The Conservatives will say so, certainly. But I'd only repeat myself to warn them: this incident, whether it costs them the government or not, is a damning indictment of their leader. The coalition may be less popular than Stephen Harper today, but that doesn't make your toad a prince. If nothing else, their party needs to find a way to move beyond the need to constantly be kicking the Liberals in the nuts. It may be fun, but it isn't government and the people can tell that.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

For the record

I disagree with the Governor General's decision, but the person at fault here is not her: Stephen Harper should never have made this her call. It was Harper, not Michaelle Jean, who decided that he would try and prorogue rather than face a confidence vote. I don't blame Jean for choosing to defer to her PM, as almost every precedent suggested she should. Again, I disagree with it, but I disagree more with the whining I'm seeing on our end.

I believed that there was ample reason for the GG to not prorogue Parliament until the PM had demonstrated he had the confidence of the House of Commons. But my beliefs don't make it so. And neither do yours. Harper put Jean in a terrible position, and she made a "safe" decision, as was her right.

If you believe, as I do, that the GG's decision sets a bad precedent, surely it's the precedent that the Prime Minister has initiated. There's nothing about this that the GG wanted to have any part of.

So, Harper: still a jackass, whose jackassery puts other people in impossible positions, and now a coward to boot.

Her excellency says yes

Proving, once again, why I am not paid to give political advice to anyone.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Your overlords, on TV

Well, that was underwhelming. And the PM meets the GG tomorrow at 9:30 AM. Too early for popcorn?

I for one hope the phrase "Your excellency, I really shit the bed this time" is used.

And for this line about Dion's address, Kady O'Malley wins the Internets:
It looks like this was recorded with a webcam - and not one of the expensive ones used by practical girls working their way through university...


Flocons asks, in comments:
While these 3 parties are united against Harper, once Harper is out and they are in government... what's to unite them then?

People have been citing examples of how coalitions have worked in the past, or in other countries in the present... but in the case of these 3 parties in the here and now... well it doesn't inspire much confidence.

Can anybody honestly say that this coalition arrangement is better than the arrangement we have now?
Taking these in order: I suspect that if the coalition makes it in to power, they'll be united by a powerful sense of self-preservation. If nothing else, last night's poll shows the public is ambivalent about this coalition and they'll need to prove themselves before going to the polls. If the coalition falls apart without any serious accomplishments everyone hangs, NDP, Bloc, and Liberal alike. There's also the fact that I think the most likely to bolt first in this coalition is a nervous Liberal party, but if they make it to power they'll be calmed by a desire to keep power and a desire to see through their leaderaship process. That gives us, at a guess, 6 months absolute minimum. In reality, I expect the coalition to last not much longer than the 18 months the BQ have promised: the conditions for a renewal of Bloc support could be constitutional matters, and I don't expect either the Liberals or the NDP to agree to that.

The second question -- will the coalition be better than the Conservative government -- I think is referring to quality of governance, not stability. There, I think we'll be surprised how quickly the NDP moderates it demands, as they already have done re: corporate tax cuts. Layton's master plan, if he has one at all, is to get people to stop rolling their eyes when they say "enn dee pee". That said, I think the weight of votes will push the Liberals to be more progressive than they're naturally inclined to be, and the weight of the current economic meltdown will push them to be looser with the purse strings then they're inclined to be.

If the coalition makes it to power, in short, I think they'll be far preferable to the options the Conservatives have presented us with over the last three years. It's useful to take a look at Margaret Wente, no squishy lefty, and see what she's saying about Harper:
Mr. Harper was supposed to be the steady hand at the helm. But now, even his long-time loyalists whisper that he's lost it. They are right. You can put up with a bully. You can even put up with a paranoid, controlling bully. But a paranoid, controlling bully with catastrophic judgment is another matter.
Harper's judgment is what's at issue here. Judgment in politics, judgment in government.

Word is Harper is going to address the country at 7pm tonight. We'll see what he has to stay, but unless it's an immediate resignation I suspect there's no much left. Almost everyone expects him to ask the GG to prorogue, but again I suspect she'll say no.

Oh thank Jeebus it's like oxygen

POLL! (PDF) Finally. Not a landslide for the coalition by any means, but really bad news for Harper. To stop this train, I think he would have needed a clear, unequivocal poll showing, by a majority (not just a small plurality) that people were opposed to this coalition. Like 55-45 or above. Instead we get a poll that is, at best, a mixed bag for everyone involved. (Bizarrely so.)

The Coles Notes: 40-35, the Conservatives do not deserve to stay in power. BUT, 40-36 against a vote of no-confidence. (To my mind, the first of these two questions is more clearly worded, but YMMV.) Should the opposition form a coalition and topple the government? No, 41-36. But if they do, they should form the next government rather than go back to an election, 37-32. 64% say they don't want Dion as PM, 53% say Harper hasn't done a good job on the economy. Intriguingly, the public financing of elections isn't wildly popular outside of BC, who support it by a 15-point margin.

Expect all of these points to be used heavily on TV tomorrow. Probably the most damaging number is for Dion: Canada really, really doesn't like him much at all. (Funny side note: Dion's biggest supporters are in Quebec, and they still oppose him being PM by 60%!) It might have been smarter to have another Liberal lead this thing, but we are where we are.

To reiterate, while I think this is at best a mixed bag, what Harper needed was a poll showing a blowout, and he didn't get it. In this sense it's like Hillary Clinton in the primaries: she needed landslides and instead barely crossed the finish line first.

And for the record, knowing I may very well humiliate myself with this, I'm gonna predict that GG Michaelle Jean will refuse to prorogue. My understanding is that Harper may be required to offer his resignation right then and there (the GG ignoring the advice of the PM is as serious as losing the confidence of the house) or he'll lose the vote on Monday, but I really don't think Jean will give him his out.

Poll via Scott, but thanks to Idealistic Pragmatist for letting me know about it too.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008


The opposition presented Harper with the nuclear option -- the fall of his government.

Is it conceivable that Harper could respond with a nuclear option of his own -- removing Governor-General Michaelle Jean, and replacing her with a loyalist of his own?

Rumour has it Jean will demand a meeting with Harper tomorrow afternoon, almost immediately after she lands.

The craziness continues

1) Where is the polling, dammit? I want to know what the country thinks, like yestderday.

2) Elizabeth May was just speaking, and it sounds awfully like she might be looking at a Senate seat, and from there it's really just a short hop to the Cabinet... and why not? If it's supposed to be a United Front, then the almost 7% of the voters who cast votes for the Greens deserve some representation in this government, I guess. Of course, given the hypocrisy of the last few days I expect the Conservatives to rail against appointing unelected Senators to the government.

3) The GG is headed back to Canada, to be arriving tomorrow afternoon. And nobody knows what would happen next. But in the video on CBC, she seems to explicitly reject the language of the Conservatives, saying that "this is the way our system works" or something to that effect.

Dear media,

Can Harper prorogue the Parliament or not?

Please answer yes or no.

I have heard both answers, in multiple iterations, several times today. On the one hand, you hear a number of experts say that the GG can't refuse the PM on this kind of matter.

On the other, you've got people saying that the GG can do what she feels if it means Canada has a functioning government. Mike Duffy raised the issue of the government running out of money unless the Parliament votes on new money bills soon.

So, either Harper can or cannot run out the clock. It would be nice to have this clarified soon. Thanks.

Long view, for a moment

So a few years back I read a really good book -- Asquith by Roy Jenkins. It's a biography of the British Prime Minister who basically killed the Liberal Party of England. Whether is was Asquith's failures or those around him is an interesting argument for another time, but after reading it in 2005 and watching the manifold failures of the Liberal Party of Canada since then, I've been struck by the odd similarities between the fate of the parties. Asquith and the early 20th-century Liberals of England found themselves with a collapsing electoral coalition as the growing labour movement stripped them of votes in places like Scotland on the one hand, and Asquith's attempt to placate Irish Nationalism drove people to the Tories on the other end. One of Asquith's last acts was to hold the balance of power in a Liberal-Labour coalition, the first time Labour held the Prime Minister's office. The paralells aren't exact, but you can find them if you look. Something that seems really relevant is the way Asquith and the Liberals lurched from one crisis/scandal to another, until eventually the party split between Lloyd George and Asquith. The party never, ever recovered and Labour became the new alternative to the Conservatives.

Now, there's no global war for the Liberals to bollocks up, and the point isn't that Dion is a new Asquith -- if nothing else, Asquith won several majorities in his own right before the disappointing end of his career. The point is that the Liberals need to find some way to vault a lot of structural problems that are currently conspiring to weaken them. And this crisis really started over a symptom of the Liberal decline: the issue of public funding wouldn't matter if the Liberals had a large motivated base of donors. (The same is of course true for the other two opposition parties.) And that's just the beginning of the Liberals' organizational problems, but critics within the party are better suited than I to talk about that.

Some of the problems the Liberals face actually are probably the fault of mediocre leaders such as Martin and Dion. But the current crop consists of two guys who lost to Dion and one guy who nobody thinks will win. Or to put it another way, a party that is serious about solving its problems produces a better crop of leaders than this.

It's not the whole of the affair, but consider that much of the success of the Democratic Party has come since leaders like Gephart, Daschle, and (yes) both Clintons have been eclipsed. If the Liberal Party thinks it can succeed without really disposing with the past and going with someone new, someone who actually inspires the party to change, then I think they're going to stay screwed.

Monday, December 01, 2008

In which I am unsympathetic

The Star:
Some within the party blame Giorno for enabling a prime minister whose political instincts tell him to lunge on an exposed Liberal jugular no matter what the consequences.

But those around the Prime Minister's Office have long said the prime minister is his own best strategist.

"At the end of the day, we all know who signed off on it," one Conservative said. "Everybody knows that this is the centre."

Some Tories have quietly suggested Harper himself conceived of and shepherded the party financing ploy to fruition, making it difficult for anyone to oppose the measure without fear.

But there didn't appear to be much dissension within Tory ranks last Wednesday, when journalists standing outside a hastily-called Conservative caucus meeting heard MPs applauding and cheering inside as they were briefed on the content of the fiscal update.
Was there anyone in the room who tried to pump the brakes before the car went over the cliff? Anyone? Bueller?

Duffy & Newman keep asking their guests what the government could do to avoid its fate. I'm betting the answer is nothing. I'm betting this because every single guest says, "nothing". Move on, guys.

Outside of the talking points, I wonder if a caucus revolt among the Tories might actually defuse this. Can the Conservative caucus sack the PM, replace him, and then proceed to fire Flaherty as well before Monday? Would that be sufficient? I certainly don't think anything short of that would work at this point.

Actually, that is unexpected

I really didn't expect Jason Cherniak to be cool with all this.

While I'm writing about this once again, exactly where do the Tories hope a massive uprising of anti-coalition sentiment to come from? Less than 40% of the country want you in office in the first place, how many do you really expect to be sad to see you go?

I imagine the first polls of english Canada will come out tomorrow, or Wed. at the latest. I don't think they'll look very good at all for the Conservatives. Yes, some soft lefties will oppose the coalition, but I think some Conservatives will break ranks too. On balance, I don't think Harper can expect much more support for his government than he got at the election.

Andrew Coyne whiffs it again


Fife also reported that the coalition government would introduce a $30-billion economic stimulus package and roll back $50 billion in planned corporate tax cuts.

Now, I never did have much of a head for figgerin’, but … lessee… carry the three, cipher the one … danged if that don’t come out to negative 20!

IN OTHER WORDS: They’re going to raise taxes into a recession. That’s why we’re going through all this: so they can raise taxes into a recession.

Cancelling a "planned corporate tax cut" does not equal raising taxes, you blockhead. Coyne knows this, because he's the first to call BS when people use similar rhetorical tactics, like saying that not increasing spending in line with inflation is equal to a spending cut.

But of course, in this case the facts favour his political opponents, so the facts need to DIE.

And even if you think tax cuts are exactly what's needed right now, corporate tax cuts are among the least useful forms of stimulus around. If the economic factors in Canada are at all similar to those in the US, this guide [PDF] is a useful tool: for every dollar lost in corporate tax cuts, you get 30 cents in stimulus. Meanwhile, for every dollar lost in a payroll tax holiday, you get almost $1.30 in stimulus. Unless of course you don't trust those communists at... Moody's. Simply put, corporate tax cuts are useless as stimulus, and cancelling future hypothetical corporate tax cuts is not the same thing as raising taxes.

Not unexpected

Really, if the GG is going to refuse the PM's dissolution request, it seems to follow that she'd be in the mood to refuse to prorogue, too. Apparently Bob Fife is reporting on CTV that Jean will refuse to allow Harper to "pull the fire alarm before his final exam", as one Liberal put it.

Five days ago Stephen Harper was a reinvigorated PM, using a recent election victory to lead a party whose acquiescence he had all but guaranteed. Funny thing how politics works.

The Hill Times has an article about how totally floored the Conservatives are over all this:
"It was a mistake, in my view, I don't know why he [Mr. Harper] did it? I think he grossly underestimated the opposition parties' reaction because he should have realized public subsidies is their [opposition parties] lifeblood. Now he may have to change his position but I don't know if he's going to do that," said one top Conservative source who added that the Conservatives were surprised by the opposition parties "furious response."

"All of us are surprised by this furious response. I never expected this to happen."
No kidding. The symmetry of all this really appeals to me, though: Harper uses the levers of state for nakedly political means for years, and it's only when the opposition learns to play ball as hard as Harper that they start to get respect.

It's like that anti-drug commercial with the befuddled Dad asking, "Where did you learn this stuff, anyway?" The opposition parties could be forgiven for replying, in one voice, "We learned it from you, okay! We learned from watching you!!!"

That said, part of my concerns over this coalition is that this represents a permanent escalation in the level of acceptable means in Canadian politics.