Resisting the pull of cynicism since 1969.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Jack's world

I'm not generally one to go all hyper-partisan on you folks and shout it from the rooftops every time Jack Layton ends up in the media. I mean, even if I felt inclined to do that, which I don't, there are party mailing lists for that sort of thing, right? But today I'm impressed enough that I'm going to embarrass myself by doing just that.

First, there was Layton's appearance on
CPAC's Prime Time Politics on October 26th, where he came across as pragmatic and smart. The interview lasted twelve minutes and covered everything from the possibility of a spring election to Afghanistan to specific pieces of legislation like the Clean Air Act, the Accountability Act, and the crime bills. It even contained a believable response to the question: "Realistically, where does the Conservative ideology train and the NDP ideology train--where on those tracks do those trains ever meet?" But most importantly, it felt natural. That's right, an entire twelve minutes without even a touch of that artificial air that he often gets when the camera is trained on him. I almost cheered.

Then came today, and this news story about Layton being willing to a) talk to Harper about possible improvements to the Clean Air Act that might bring the NDP closer to supporting it, and b) face a spring or even a fall election if the Conservatives don't start being willing to remember that they're in a minority parliament. This is the way the game is played, folks. Even Conservative blogger Greg Staples and Liberal blogger Far and Wide have a grudging respect for the guy this week, while über-Liberal Jason Cherniak is spinning, spinning, spinning.

[By the way, I listen to the CPAC shows on podcast, and it was already in MP3 form on my computer, so it was easy enough to save the Layton interview excerpt for anybody else who wanted to hear it. Feel free to nab it from here.]

Monday, October 30, 2006

Canadian and American perceptions of "rudeness"

Thought experiment: you have a co-worker, Charlotte. You know from office gossip that she had a very messy divorce a few years back and she's been single ever since, but you've never spoken with her about it. You get along well with her, but you're not friends and you don't socialize with her beyond the occasional water cooler conversation. At one of these water cooler conversations, she says something cryptic that suggests she may now be dating Harold, a co-worker of the two of yours, but she doesn't elaborate any further. You are very curious about the details.

Which (if either) of the following responses to this situation would you consider to be more "rude"?

a) A question like: "Oh, are you and Harold an item now, then?"

b) Saying nothing to her, but later asking several other co-workers whether they've heard anything about Charlotte and Harold, and whether they know any more details than what you know.

I wouldn't stake my life on it, but from having lived in both the U.S. and Canada, I'm guessing that Canadians will consider a) more rude, and Americans will consider b) more rude.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Garth going Green makes sense

Now that ousted Tory Garth Turner has been musing publicly about joining the Green Party, many bloggers are confused. "The Green agenda is about as far from Conservatism as anything could possibly get, isn't it?" asks Conservative DazzlinDino. Guess again.

Jim Harris, the former Green Party leader who drastically increased his party's percentage of the vote during his tenure, is a management consultant and corporate motivational speaker who has described himself as a "green conservative" and his party as "eco-capitalist." Before he joined the Greens, he was a member of the Progressive Conservative party, and while he was leader, he hired several prominent Ontario Tories as party advisors. Harris's Greens' party platform was quite fiscally conservative, including corporate tax cuts and taxing resources rather than incomes, and they favoured voluntary compliance solutions to the business vs. environment conflict.

New Green Party leader Elizabeth May, too, has Progressive Conservative roots, which may come as a surprise to the people who are trying to paint her as a hard-left granola-eater. May once worked for Brian Mulroney's environment minister, and while she resigned her post over policy differences, she had nothing but praise for Mulroney when she saw to it that he would be named Canada's Greenest Prime Minister in April. "The truth is that for many years I've been saying that Brian Mulroney had an environmental records that puts subsequent prime ministers to shame," May said only a few months ago. The voters recognize this connection, too--a recent SES poll even found that Elizabeth May's Greens are the second choice party for more than a third of Conservative voters. Hardly surprising when you consider that the current Green platform includes planks on personal income and corporate tax cuts.

The baffled bloggers are right about one thing, though--the Greens are hardly Stephen-Harper-style conservatives. But then again, neither is Garth Turner. The blue streak in the Canadian Green Party is of a decidedly Progressive Conservative shade, and Turner, too, is a Red Tory who once sat in Kim Campbell's Progressive Conservative government and ran for the leadership of that party in 1993. He's a strong fiscal conservative who has spoken out in favour of same-sex marriage and criticized Rona Ambrose's environmental policies. He never really drank the Harper Kool-Aid. And if you look at the Greens' platform--really look at it, rather than just assuming they're nothing but a somewhat less successful clone of the NDP--it's pretty clear that a fiscally conservative, socially liberal, environmentally conscious MP like Garth Turner would be a far better fit for the Green Party than for Harper's Conservatives anyway.

Now, many lefties have criticized the Greens for not being left-wing enough, but to me that's a bit too much like criticizing a petunia for not being a geranium. I don't believe in Progressive Conservative or Green Party policies, but I do believe in a full spectrum of real voter choice, and by now it's pretty clear that the merger of the Progressive Conservatives with Reform left a gaping hole in the Canadian political scene. Sure, Harper has made the occasional minor gesture to appease the Red Tories, but his government has shown itself to be much further to the right on social issues than they'd like it to be, and the recent Clean Air Act fiasco has proven once and for all that Harper and Company think Alberta oil wealth should take precedence over serious environmental policy. The Greens offer Canadians a synthesis of Red Tory fiscal policies, progressive social policies, and a strong environmentalist bent, and there's more than enough room on the Canadian political scene for that.

I say go for it, Garth. It only makes sense.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Okay, you folks are sick.

Apparently, my "same-sex muddle" post is currently the top google hit for 'rae ignatieff slash'. You know how I know this? Because apparently, there are people looking for porny fan fiction starring Bob Rae and Michael Ignatieff and finding my blog in the process.

Disturbed or amused, disturbed or amused. Do I have to pick just one?

[Update: I apparently also hold the current top hit for rae ignatieff slash sex. Oh, dear.]

Thursday, October 19, 2006

No spring vote? Think again.

The Globe and Mail's John Ibbitson speculates in his latest column that because of the rising fortunes of the Liberals (and the declining fortunes of the Conservatives), there won't be an election anytime soon. The rationale, of course, is that the Conservatives certainly wouldn't go out of their way to engineer their own defeat if they're at all likely to then go on and be defeated altogether in the general election.

The problem with Ibbitson's logic is that he's assuming that the timing of the next election is entirely up to the Conservatives. It isn't. If Harper decides not to risk an election in light of these numbers, he can certainly make sure there isn't a confidence vote on anything until the budget next spring. But even Harper can't prevent the spring budget from being a confidence vote, at which point all bets are off. Ibbitson claims that the Liberals would benefit from another year in opposition, but by spring they'll have a shiny new leader, and there's no way they'll be feeling so timid that they'd allow themselves to be tarred with the brush of supporting the Tories. The Bloc Québécois has already named their price for supporting the spring budget: twelve billion dollars. And can you really think of anything that Harper would be able to offer Jack Layton in exchange for getting the NDP to support a Conservative budget? After all that's gone down this year? Yeah, I can't, either.

If the Conservatives rebound in the polls, Harper's going to want a spring election. If the other parties are strong, then they will want one. If somebody out there can show me a path that doesn't guarantee a spring election, I'm all ears, but at this point I haven't been able to find one.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Another Conservative double standard

Conservative bloggers are fond of criticizing Jack Layton for "turfing" Bev Desjarlais from caucus once upon a time. Never mind that it's not actually true (he actually demoted her to the back bench for voting against equal marriage, and she later quit the party all on her own), they still go on about it ad nauseum, repeating the misinformation at every possible opportunity. Some even claim that Layton was in violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Now that Harper has booted Garth Turner from his own caucus (actually booted, now, not just demoted to the back bench...where he incidentally had already resided) for criticizing his party and his dear leader, though, I wonder what all these Tory freedom fighters will have to say for themselves?

[Update: While he wasn't interested in commenting on the original post over here, Stephen Taylor has criticized this post elsewhere for being untrue. Stephen claims the following:

First, Desjarlais was turfed out by her local riding members in a nomination battle.

Second, Harper didn't toss Garth to the curb, Ontario caucus did.
In response I can only say this: Desjarlais wasn't removed from the party by her riding association--riding associations don't have that power. She quit the party of her own accord, as indicated in the link above, and now works for a Conservative cabinet minister. And the original idea to throw Turner out may have come from the Ontario caucus, but the vote was subsequently endorsed by the overall caucus:
The general caucus endorsed the unanimous vote to suspend Turner based on what some have called indiscretions on his weblog, including breaches of caucus secrecy and criticism of his government and the prime minister.
That level of spin is pretty impressive, though, Stephen--it'll probably actually fool a few people. My hat's off to you.]

There's something missing here

Every week I listen to U.S. National Public Radio's Diane Rehm Show Friday News Roundup on podcast. It's a panel of journalists who get together to talk about the week's stories, after which callers from across the country have a chance to call in and comment. While it presents voices from across the political spectrum, this is hardly Fox News's version of "fair and balanced"; Rehm is the epitome of a fair host, the journalists usually come up with quite a layered analysis, and the listeners who call in generally skew left. National Public Radio is also the closest you get to real public broadcasting in the U.S.

Throughout the time I've been listening to the podcast--about eight months now--the panel has often discussed the war in Afghanistan. Casualties, skirmishes, insurgents, and the possibility of a pullout or a relocation of troops to Iraq. But in the midst of this, there's a word that hasn't been mentioned once: Canada. Not when Canada's troops were moved to southern Afghanistan, not when Harper extended the mission, not when Canadian soldiers have died, not when Canada was asked to take over the mission entirely. Not once. For all the Diane Rehm Show's listeners are aware--and we're talking about a pretty elite slice of the U.S., all things told--the U.S. is all alone out there.

It's gives me pause.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Same-sex muddle

There were a lot of things that irritated me about Bob Rae's appearance on the Mercer Report (although I seem to be alone in having actually found the skinny-dipping funny), but nothing more than this exchange:

Rae: There are people who are driven by nasty theories, by particular, uh--

Mercer: Give us an example, Bob.

Rae: Oh, all this resistance to-- uh-- to uh-- same-- same-sex?
Now, don't get me wrong, Bob, I appreciate your political views on this particular matter. But let me enlighten you about something. 'Same-sex' is an adjective. It's impossible to "resist" an adjective. You can resist a noun, or you can resist a noun with an adjectival modifier, but an adjective alone? No can do.

Now, I make money at this sort of thing in real life (yeah, yeah, I know, "get a real job"), and so I've trained my expert eye on Rae's usage here. And my professional opinion on what's happening is that the noun in the noun phrase 'same-sex marriage' has been deleted from Rae's sentence, leaving the poor, lowly adjective to carry the whole phrase on its tiny little back. Furthermore, it seems that Bob Rae is far from alone in this odd little linguistic innovation. In fact, within just the last couple of months, it's spread across Canada like a bad rash at a nudist camp. But the thing is, you can drop the noun in a noun phrase, but you can't prevent the adjective from clinging to other nouns. And that's when we start moving from eye-rollers to some real head-scratchers.

Last week, for example, the Globe and Mail told us about the same-sex debate. I can't be the only one who envisioned a gaggle of men at podiums without a woman in sight. Around the same time, the Winnipeg Free Press predicted a same-sex showdown--perhaps a horde of gunslinging women out in the town square, glaring menacingly at each other? Would the same-sex opponents the Globe mentions be Bob Rae himself and his friend-cum-nemesis, Michael Ignatieff, or two male hockey heroes from opposing teams? Would the same-sex ban referred to by the Wisconsin State Journal be one of those weird singles clubs that insists on gender balance at events? And then there's my personal favourite--the legal furor that's reportedly erupting over a same-sex proposal. Perhaps that's something like:

Adam (nervously): Um, we've been together a long time. And I think, maybe, it's about time we thought about...getting married.

The part that really muddies the waters, though, is that in deciding to start dropping nouns from noun phrases all willy-nilly, papers like the Globe haven't stopped using 'same-sex' as a perfectly ordinary adjective meaning "of or relating to two or more persons of the same gender." In one of today's headlines, for example, they tell us about advocates of same-sex schooling. Now, is that supposed to mean "schooling involving people of the same sex," or is it supposed to mean "education about same-sex (marriage)"? I'm honestly not sure anymore.

Perhaps Bob Rae can enlighten us.

Monday, October 16, 2006

What are the Conservatives up to?

On the weekend, we at Progressive Bloggers got a stern talking-to from the leftdog, accusing us of all being so busy writing about the Liberal leadership race that we're letting the Tories do crazy things without taking them to task. He's right, of course, and it's not just the Liberal bloggers who are guilty of that. In my own defense, though, I can only say that campaigns and elections are fun even when they're not yours, and it's awfully hard to write about the policies and strategies of a party that you find so damn confusing.

I mean, we all know that Harper did things from day one that went against his own stated code of conduct, but at least you could follow his rationale. When he enticed a Liberal to cross the floor, he was trying to strengthen his puny minority while assuring some continuity on the softwood lumber file. When he appointed a Senator and made him a cabinet minister, he was trying to assure some urban Montreal representation while ensuring that one of his backroom buddies got a juicy post. Slimy stuff, but hardly nonsensical.

These days, though, they've been decidedly more...shall we say...opaque. Though they've been told by their own ilk that they should distance themselves from Bush, stop concentrating so much on foreign policy, and avoid talking about the environment at all costs, they've been behaving more like Bush by the day, digging in their heels on Afghanistan, and announcing with much fanfare that soon they might maybe be announcing an environmental plan approach that completely lacks any teeth.

As if those things weren't baffling enough, their side projects are equally incomprehensible. Not only are they bringing back the same-sex marriage issue this fall, but they're also floating a possible federal Defence of Religions Act that sounds suspiciously like something Alberta's resident Rick Santorum clone, Ted Morton, would come up with. They're making their sitting MPs defend their seats in nomination battles, but rigging the vote for even their looniest caucus members. And in their spare time, they've been firing government scientists for refusing to participate in their war on rhetoric. The result is that they remain stuck at 36% in the polls, and their love-hate relationship with Quebec has swung decisively to the other end of that dial. Strange moves for a party that wants a majority so badly that you can almost see the drool on their slavering chops.

The Second Coming of Greg Bester seems to think we're witnessing the Conservatives coming apart at the seams, but after all the lessons we've learned about not underestimating our Dear Leader, I'm reluctant to come to the same conclusion. And on last week's edition of CPAC's Talk Politics, Susan Delacourt seemed to be equally disinclined to predict the Conservatives' defeat based on this strange new strategy:

Ken Rockburn: This is a guy who's looking for a majority government. You can see it in every move they make that this is what they're aiming at.

Susan Delacourt: Yeah.

Ken Rockburn: Is this one going to play out for him in this regard? If it goes on like this, you would think people would see him as at such a remove from your average Canadian that this whole movement he's proported to represent to begin with--that it might just backfire on him.

Susan Delacourt: Well, if it works, he's rewriting a few formulas. I'm loathe to make predictions because it's been a raucous few years in Canadian politics for predictions. But I will say that if it does work--if this sort of very authoritarian, controlling, disciplined kind of leadership works--then we've all been off on the wrong path.
So have Stephen Harper's Conservatives gone just a little bit crazy, or have they stumbled upon a winning strategy that none of the rest of us recognize? I would have thought I understood Canada well enough to say one way or the other, but in days like these I'm starting to think I shouldn't dare. And as for the leftdog's challenge to start posting more about the Tories, I'll do what I can, but lately I'm just too weirded out by what they're doing to do much more than sit here, slackjawed.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Culture clashes for Africa

As one who was a teenager in the '80s, I remember well the period when you couldn't turn on the radio without hearing one or another of the wave of pop songs recorded to raise money for famine-struck African nations. The phenomenon started with the British song, after which the idea spread country by country across the globe to the United States, to Canada, to Germany, to France, and to Spain and Latin America. I collected these songs back then--at my core I'm a big ol' sap, and the fifteen-year-old IP just loved them.

The movement wasn't as perfect as people tried to make it, though. It was saturated with the zeitgeist of the '80s: glitzy, wealthy pop stars coming together to record mostly not terribly catchy tunes with thrown-together lyrics, and sending the money they earned off to corrupt regimes that assured most of it didn't actually reach the people who needed it most. More interesting than that in retrospect, though, is the fact that since the whole point was to raise money for starving Africans, each country had to use the kinds of appeals they thought would work on their own citizens. What this ended up meaning was that each of the songs unintentionally got at the core of each country's individual helper ideology.

I mean, compare:

the British one: "We're all happy and snug in our homes, celebrating a Christian holiday. But there is a faraway place where people are so miserable that they DON'T EVEN KNOW that this Christian holiday is happening! Doesn't that make you want to donate money?"

the American one: "People are dying, and we are the ONLY ones who can help them. Their fates rest on OUR shoulders. And besides, it would make God happy. Doesn't that make you want to donate money?"

the Canadian one: "We can't pretend these bad things aren't happening. Instead, we have to prove to everyone that we are a CARING PEOPLE. It's our responsibility. Doesn't that make you want to donate money?"

the Spanish one: "We want to be a SHINING BEACON OF LIGHT to people who are sad and hungry. All we have to do is sing, and we can make that happen. Doesn't that make you want to donate money?"

the French one: "People are dying in Ethiopia, and that's AWFUL. Our song isn't nearly enough, but it's all we've got. There's a slight chance that we can still help them. Doesn't that make you want to donate money?"

and the German one: "In a faraway place, there are people who are suffering horrible experiences that we're going to describe here in excruciating detail. Some of them are even CHILDREN. The few things people have halfheartedly tried to do for them so far haven't helped, and the only reason anybody's ever bothered at all is because they didn't want the fates of these poor sods to weigh on their consciences. Doesn't that make you want to donate money?"

Apparently it worked, too, because all of these projects together raised hundreds of millions of dollars. Which is quite the phenomenon in and of itself, if you think about it.

It seems I didn't quite manage to "resist the pull of cynicism" today. Oops. Sorry 'bout that.

[Update: Welcome, visitors from the Falcon Twin webcomic. There's a certain irony in me getting a link about a "cynicism meter" "going to eleven" (given my tagline at the top, if nothing else) but I suppose it serves me right after this post!]

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Detailed analysis of Liberal leadership poll

While looking for some of the links in my last post, I stumbled upon a wonderful post by local Edmonton-Strathcona blogger Carlos the Jackass about the Strategic Council Liberal leadership poll that came out in late September. He took the poll and did his own analysis of the findings, going beyond the superficial findings of "Ignatieff is the frontrunner but has less growth potential than Rae"--which is not only boring as hell, but has since pretty much been confirmed by the results of Super Weekend, anyway.

He explains his analysis as follows:

The primary usefulness of the poll, besides the fact that it surveys Liberal members instead of Liberal supporters (remember that distinction?) is that, in addition to asking how Liberals intend to vote, it asks them which candidate they favour in a number of categories. Those categories are: has run the best race, has introduced the most innovative and exciting ideas, is most intelligent, comes closest to representing the respondent's own views, is most honest and ethical, has best personality, is most likely to lead the Liberals to victory, would be most effective at taking on the Harper government, is best communicator, is best-liked by the media, would make the best Prime Minister.

From this, one of the things that we can do is measure each candidate's success in each category against his/her overall support from the Liberals, and then determine what the candidate's assets and liabilities are. For this purpose, I removed undecided respondents from the race in all categories and calculated responses among decided Liberals only. From there, I compared each candidate's support to his/her positive rating in each category and determined whether he/she was punching above or below his/her weight class for each one. For example, thirty-seven percent of decided Liberals consider Michael Ignatieff to be the most intelligent candidate in the race, but only twenty-six percent of decided Liberals intend to support him - in this regard, he is punching well below his intellect, because there are a lot of people who aren't supporting him even though they think he's the smartest guy in the race. On the other hand, only nineteen percent consider him the most honest and ethical, so he's punching well above his weight there.
This is political blogging at its finest: taking what the mainstream media has said about something and reanalyzing it in a new way. In fact, it's kind of appalling that the post generated almost no discussion. Anyone who's interested in the Liberal leadership race--whether you have a vested interest in a candidate or are merely viewing it as a spectator sport--should read it.

Local vs. national tensions in Canadian voting

One of the things that intrigues me about voting behaviour in Canada is the fact that you only get one vote, and that one vote helps determine two very different things: your local representative and your government. And I'm fascinated by the very different decisions people make as a result of this combined vote.

Exhibit A on this front is people like Andrew Anderson of Bound by Gravity, who is a member and staunch supporter of the Conservative Party of Canada, but who is so disenchanted with his MP that he says he won't be able to vote for him next time. Because Andrew needs to support that particular candidate in order to vote for his party, this effectively means that he will have to vote for a party other than the Conservatives. For him, local factors trump national ones.

On the other side, we have exhibit B, i.e., the various people who are saying that the success or failure of this or that Liberal leadership candidate at the convention will entirely determine the way they vote. "The day Ignatieff becomes leader of the Liberals is the last day of any support I give the party," says one commenter over at Canadian Cerberus, and Mike, the somewhat disenchanted New Democrat from Rational Reasons, has said several times that if Bob Rae wins the leadership, he will vote Liberal for the first time in his life. For these people, national factors trump local ones.

Finally, we have exhibit C, which consists of those who try to balance the local with the national. A good example here is Matt from Pample the Moose, who has said things like: "In a wide-open race, I wouldn't vote for an Ignatieff-led Liberal party over the NDP - although I'd still strategically vote Liberal in a tight local race to beat a Conservative." People like Matt are influenced by the leaders of the parties and their official policies, but those things aren't the be-all and end-all of their decisions, as local factors matter as well.

I think this is part of why I would find the way people vote under a Mixed-Member Proportional voting system so ideal for Canada. Because you get two votes under that system--one for a local candidate and one for a party--it separates choosing a local representative from choosing a government. If, say, you're particularly enamoured with your local Green candidate, but you'd really like to give Jack Layton a shot at becoming prime minister--or if you'd ideally like to see a Liberal-led government but think your local NDP candidate has a better chance of ousting the sitting Tory (as in my riding)--you can actually represent both of those preferences with your vote.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

What's that scream I hear? It must be a Republican!

While there's still plenty to be depressed about in the U.S., these headlines are the sort of thing I was talking about when I said that following the U.S. political news had suddenly gotten a lot more fun:

And for good measure, here's Congressional Quarterly's map of the projections for House, Senate, and Governor races this November. It's starting to look awfully blue...

Closer to home, some more IP-specific good news: Vues d'ici's Radical Centrist helped me figure out my little Internet Explorer problem, so now you don't even need a good browser to read my blog! *grin* Thanks, RC!

Friday, October 06, 2006

Quick hits

None of these things are quite meaty enough for their own posts, but here's hoping that all together, they'll make a lovely tapestry of ideas rather than a jumbled chaos. (Yeah, yeah, I know. Work with me, here!)

1. Delectable U.S. news: I still believe the U.S. is a sinking ship, and I still think the Democrats make the Liberals look both competent and left-wing, so I'm hardly staking my hopes on them. But I have to admit, I have been veritably salivating over the coverage of the upcoming U.S. election these days. From Florida Senate candidate Katherine Harris to incumbent Virginia Senator George Webb to disgraced former Florida Congressman Mark Foley, every day it seems that there's something new that makes the Republicans look terrible. And that's just the last couple of weeks! The current wisdom is that it's not only possible for the Democrats to take over the House of Representatives in November, but likely. Any lefties who usually avoid U.S. news because it's too depressing should seriously rethink that right now--'cause you're missing out on some mighty fine schadenfreude.

2. Coding problems: A reader points out to me that my blog's "right-hand column is totally oversized, which has resulted in your posts further down the page to be inflated to font size 50 or something." Further digging has revealed that this seems to be an Internet Explorer-specific problem. I have one suggestion and one request about this. The suggestion: if you're really still using Internet Explorer in this day and age, might I recommend a real browser? The request: I do want to fix my coding even if it's only the IE militants who are inconvenienced, but since I can't see what they're seeing, it's awfully hard to fix. Anyone willing to help? It'd be appreciated!

3. Incomprehensible Tories: When I first heard about the fact that the Conservatives were making even sitting MPs face a nomination battle, I thought it was a) probably a ploy to get the likes of Rob Anders out of their caucus without losing a seat, and b) a truly ingenious tactic. Now it seems, though, that the party went to the wall for Anders, going so far as to produce a minor scandal. I have two questions about this: a) Why on earth would the Conservatives risk that kind of scrutiny over Rob Anders, and b) if they weren't going to use the nomination challenge to get rid of him, then why did they have sitting MPs face challenges to begin with? I just don't get it.

4. Essay question: Do you own a Blackberry? If not, do you want one? If so, is the Crackberry moniker apt?

Climate change: a challenge to skeptics

Over at Conservative blogger Greg Staples' pad, I got into a bit of a spat the other day with some hardline Tories about climate change. I was told that "the scientific process is still not settled," that "advocates use every weather formation as an example," and that "when everything is climate change nothing is." When I asked for specifics on what environmentalists are saying that they think are based on spurious scientific conclusions, hecklers on the sidelines informed me that the entire premise of the question was faulty, and that my mind had been "polluted" by environmentalists.

Greg himself finally addressed my question by saying that it's a simple matter of the scientific method, and that until there's a single agreed-upon "Theory of Global Climate Change," then nothing is settled. At this point I agreed that they hadn't reached that stage in environmental science, but added that reaching that stage in any science is awfully rare. (I mean, by that standard, science "isn't settled" on the notion that fossil fuels exist, either.) So I asked whether he really believed that our public policy should wait until that stage to act on scientific findings. His response was as follows:

You act on the best information you have. But something [sic] the best action is to wait for more information. It is vital in this public policy example that we have confidence in the models and projections. They are not robust enough (in my opinion) to decide whether we need to adapt, try to get back to 1990 levels or even 1900 levels or somewhere in between.
All of this sounds superficially quite reasonable, of course. But what concerns me most about this discussion is the lack of specifics. What kind of information do we not have, which the Conservatives think we would need in order to act? What, precisely, is it about the models and projections that inspires a lack of confidence? What would make them "robust enough," and how do we get there? And perhaps most importantly, in the absence of that kind of detail, how can I not believe that these Conservative bloggers are just trying to muddy the waters on purely ideological grounds?

So I'd like to issue a challenge to anyone who's willing to address this lack of specifics and argue for the position Greg Staples and his commenters are trying to represent. This challenge has two parts: one, answer the questions I ask in the last paragraph, and two, address the findings environmental scientists are presenting as consensus (here's a nice summary from the David Suzuki Foundation) and detail why they're not. You can address either or both of those parts of the challenge, but in either case I'd appreciate any responses to be backed up by cited scientific data (either quotes from scientific articles or links to websites), since that is, after all, the point.

Now, I admit that the last time I issued a challenge like this, I stacked the deck--I know an awful lot about electoral systems, after all, and have a ready response for just about any argument someone might make. This time is different, though: I'm far short of being even a well-read amateur on the impact of greenhouse gases on the environment. I've read the overly simplified discussions in the newspaper, I've read the occasional essay on the topic and seen the occasional lecture, and that's it. I haven't even seen Al Gore's movie yet. Even if I were trying to trap you, I don't have the knowledge to do so, so go ahead and give it all you've got. I'm not saying that you'll convince me, but it's not impossible.

I look forward to the discussion.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Showtime's Super-Top-Secret prime-time special

The other day, a friend in the U.S. told me about a new television show called "Dexter," about a psychopathic medical examiner who hunts down and executes serial killers. I was intrigued, so this evening I did a google search on it to see if I could find out some more information about it. I found the show's site easily, but when I clicked on the link, it said:


We at Showtime Online express our apologies; however, these pages are intended for access only from within the United States.
Apparently, there's an American television show about a murderous psychopath that's so super-top-secret that they're blocking any attempts from outsiders to find out any information about it.


You know, I don't even think I want to know why that might be. Just backing away slowly, then...

An outsider's take on the Liberals' "super-weekend"

I don't have a dog in the Liberal leadership fight, but I am a big fat geek, so I've been hitting refresh on this page more times than I can count this weekend. And now that most of the results are in, tentative analyses can start. Here's mine:

The race has now separated into three categories: a frontrunner (Ignatieff), three others with a fine showing who could conceivably still win (Rae, Dion, and Kennedy), and four also-rans who have absolutely no chance. This is not a surprise. What makes things somewhat more exciting, though, are some of the details. Ignatieff is the clear front-runner, and the only one with a strong showing in every province--but he's well short of the 50% he needs to win, and he seems to have as many detractors as fans, which will not serve him well on second or third ballots. Rae has also done very well, even winning a few provinces--but his somewhat poorer showing in his home province of Ontario will lend credence to the naysayers who think his longago premiership there makes him poison. Dion is a strong second to Ignatieff in Quebec, which indicates a much clearer redemption for him there than for Rae in Ontario--but his results are lukewarm overall. Kennedy has strong support in several provinces, especially in the west--but his dismal (less than 2%!) numbers in Quebec must be a terrible shock to his team.

How this all plays out will depend on a number of factors. Ignatieff is in a tough position, and can only win at this point if he can manage to somehow convince a lot of delegates that he should be their second choice. This may not be doable. Kennedy is in the exact opposite position, but with a similar effect: he's well-liked across the board, but Quebec is a dealbreaker. Although he could theoretically come up with the numbers to win, Liberals are going to go into their second and third ballots well aware that making him the leader would mean conceding the next election, and they're feeling far too optimistic for that right now. Rae and Dion, on the other hand, are in far better overall positions, and at this point one of them seems far more likely to take it than either Ignatieff or Kennedy. But even this isn't simple, because a lot turns on what Kennedy decides to do next. Will he hang on until the bitter end, or will he throw his weight behind one of his rivals? If he does endorse someone else, then who? He could very well be in a position to choose the next leader all on his own if he's willing to concede defeat either just before the convention or early in the convention.

Mostly, though, I've come to the conclusion that I really need more elections in my life where I don't give two figs about the outcome. Because this has been fun.

[Update: Paul Wells thinks I'm wrong--it's going to be Ignatieff after all. He also doesn't sound terribly happy about that.]

Sunday, October 01, 2006

2006 Canadian Blog Awards

I know one of my nominations for this year's Canadian Blog Awards came from a friend (who was probably being overly generous, but I'm not complaining), but muchos smooches to the folks who nominated me for the other three categories. I have to admit I'm pleased that (unlike last year) a post I myself might have called one of my best was nominated for the Best Blog Post category. After all, if I'm gonna get some bonus traffic to an ancient post, it might as well be for something I'm proud of, right?

Nominations run through November 12th, and I'll be submitting my own within the next week or so. I don't yet know who I'll nominate for what, but my blogroll will feature prominently, I'm sure. 'Cause they're the best.