Sobering Thoughts

Comments on politics, the culture, economics, and sports by Paul Tuns. I am editor-in-chief of "The Interim," Canada's life and family newspaper, and author of "Jean Chretien: A Legacy of Scandal" (2004) and "The Dauphin: The Truth about Justin Trudeau" (2015). I am some combination of conservative/libertarian, standing athwart history yelling "bullshit!" You can follow me on Twitter (@ptuns).

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Saturday, September 30, 2006
Stat of the day

4,400: Estimated number of tigers in India in 1989
1,200-1,500: Estimated number of tigers in India today
300-400: Predicted number of tigers in India by 2010

(Source: "Tigers in the Twilight," Economist, September 9, 2006)

Quote of the day

Diana West on the gap between Islam and peace:

"The experts tell us militant Islamic fundamentalists, or 'Islamists,' represent a narrow, if murderous, fringe. They number no more than 10, maybe 15, percent of all Muslims. That estimate works out to somewhere between 100 million and 150 million people. Which is a lot of murderous fringe"

Cuba is so poor...

How poor is it?

It's so poor that many people use horse-drawn buggies as taxis which instead of taillights, they have "flaming buckets."

Russell Roberts at Cafe Hayek points to this enlightening (at least to those who have chosen blindness for the past 47 years) article in the Washington Post about the state of Cubans' ability to get around. The Post's Manuel Roig-Franzia writes apropos of the buggy-taxis:

"Countless chroniclers of Cuba have observed that the vintage American cars in Havana -- the fabulous, hulking Buicks and finned Chryslers -- make the capital feel like a city frozen in the 1950s. But outside Havana, in the vast expanse of the Caribbean's largest island, the ambiance often leans more toward the 1850s."

Family Planning Advice

Funny sign, here. (HT: Tim Worstall)

Sometimes the 'good news' is bad

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has said it is once again safe to eat fresh spinach. Darn it.

Pakistan and Mumbai

BBC reports:

"Pakistan's intelligence agency was behind the train blasts in Mumbai in July that killed 186 people, Indian police say.

The attacks were planned by the ISI and carried out by the Islamist militant group Lashkar-e-Toiba, based in Pakistan, Mumbai's police chief said.

AN Roy said the Students' Islamic Movement of India had also assisted.

Pakistan rejected the allegations and said India had given no evidence of Pakistani involvement in the attacks.

'We have solved the 11 July bombings case. The whole attack was planned by Pakistan's ISI and carried out by Lashkar-e-Toiba and their operatives in India,' Mumbai (Bombay) police commissioner AN Roy told a news conference."

Liberal race

Liberal Party website has the latest delegate count and at 12:51 pm Saturday, it appears that five candidates will likely be around a week from now, let alone a month from now: Michael Ignatieff (27.6%), Stephane Dion (18.5%), Bob Rae (18.1%), Gerard Kennedy (14.3%) and Martha Hall Findlay (1.8%). Hall Findlay is not in this to win but to create a national profile and donor list, possibly to challenge Belinda Stronach in the future for the Newmarket-Aurora Liberal nomination, so she is in this race for a long while, if not 'til the very end. (Plus the Liberals need a woman on the ballot at the Montreal convention.) But Scott Brison (7.5%), Ken Dryden (5.8%) and Joe Volpe (3.8%) will be bargaining with the three front-runners this week. Brison will likely back Ignatieff who is ideologically closest to him and who is most likely to be able to repay him with a cabinet post sooner than the others (you gotta figure that Brison is banking on Finance or Foreign Affairs in a potential Ignatieff government). Dryden could back Rae but I wouldn't be surprised to see him try to give Kennedy or Dion some momentum and a chance for himself to claim king-maker status. I don't know who in their right mind would want Volpe's endorsement.

UPDATE: Provincially: Dion has a slight lead over Ignatieff in Quebec (33%-29%, Volpe running a weak fourth behind Rae), Brison swept Nova Scotia with nearly 60%, Iggy has a solid lead over Dion in New Brunswick (43%-21% with Dryden in third with 10%, Rae slightly ahead of the Harvard professor in Newfoundland (33%-31% with Dion in fifth), and with less than a quarter of Ontario meetings reporting, Ignatieff ahead of Kennedy (33%-22%) with Dion and Rae battling it out for third (13.3%-12.9%). Although I haven't thought about how it would affect the decisions made over the next week to month, provincial strengths could very well come into play when deciding whether to drop out (being a regional champion) or not (what can a candidate get in return for delivering a region to the potential winner).

Friday, September 29, 2006
Stat of the Day

30 million: The projected contraction in employment between 2017 and 2050 in the European Union.

(Source: "Can Europe Afford to Grow Old," Finance & Development, IMF)


"By the intercession of St. Michael and the celestial Choir of Powers, may the Lord vouchsafe to protect our souls against the snares and temptation of the devil."
-- Fifth Salutation from the Angelic Chaplet of St. Michael

Feast Day of Saints Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, the Archangels

Today (September 29) is an incredibly important day for Catholics as we celebrate the Feast Day of Saints Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, the Archangels. In our family, it is major celebration: we have a special meal (including meat if it falls on a Friday), we have special prayers, do something fun as a family and our son Michael gets to celebrate his "name day" and receive a small present.

Here's what says about the Feast of the Archangels:

"Angels—messengers from God—appear frequently in Scripture, but only Michael, Gabriel and Raphael are named.
Michael appears in Daniel's vision as "the great prince" who defends Israel against its enemies; in the Book of Revelation, he leads God's armies to final victory over the forces of evil. Devotion to Michael is the oldest angelic devotion, rising in the East in the fourth century. The Church in the West began to observe a feast honoring Michael and the angels in the fifth century.

Gabriel also makes an appearance in Daniel's visions, announcing Michael's role in God's plan. His best-known appearance is an encounter with a young Jewish girl named Mary, who consents to bear the Messiah.

Raphael's activity is confined to the Old Testament story of Tobit. There he appears to guide Tobit's son Tobiah through a series of fantastic adventures which lead to a threefold happy ending: Tobiah's marriage to Sarah, the healing of Tobit's blindness and the restoration of the family fortune.

The memorials of Gabriel (March 24) and Raphael (October 24) were added to the Roman calendar in 1921. The 1970 revision of the calendar joined their feasts to Michael's.


Each of these archangels performs a different mission in Scripture: Michael protects; Gabriel announces; Raphael guides. Earlier belief that inexplicable events were due to the actions of spiritual beings has given way to a scientific world-view and a different sense of cause and effect. Yet believers still experience God's protection, communication and guidance in ways which defy description. We cannot dismiss angels too lightly."

And here are three beautiful prayers to each of the Archangels:

Saint Michael the Archangel

Saint Michael the Archangel,
Defend us in battle.
Be our protection against the wickedness
and snares of the devil;
May God rebuke him; we humbly pray;
And do thou O Prince of the heavenly host,
By the power of God, thrust into hell
Satan and all evil spirits
Who wander through the world
For the ruin of souls. Amen.

St. Gabriel the Archangel

Blessed Saint Gabriel, Archangel
We beseech you to intercede for us at the throne of divine mercy:
As you announced the mystery of the Incarnation to Mary,
so through your prayers
may we receive strength of faith and courage of spirit,
and thus find favor with God
and redemption through Christ Our Lord.
May we sing the praise of God our Savior
with the angels and saints in heaven
forever and ever. Amen.

St. Raphael the Archangel

O God, send the Archangel Raphael to our assistance. May he who stands forever praising you at your throne present our humble petitions to be blessed by you. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Here's the Angelic Chaplet of St. Michael which I try to pray daily.

There is some misunderstanding about Catholics and saints and the misperception that we "worship" saints. Here is an excellent article from Catholic Answers, including this brief excerpt:

"Another attempt to make clear the difference between the honor due to God and that due to humans has been to use the words adore and adoration to describe the total, consuming reverence due to God and the terms venerate, veneration, and honor to refer to the respect due humans. Thus, Catholics sometimes say, "We adore God but we honor his saints."

Unfortunately, many non-Catholics have been so schooled in hostility toward the Church that they appear unable or unwilling to recognize these distinctions. They confidently (often arrogantly) assert that Catholics "worship" Mary and the saints, and, in so doing, commit idolatry. This is patently false, of course, but the education in anti-Catholic prejudice is so strong that one must patiently explain that Catholics do not worship anyone but God—at least given the contemporary use of the term. The Church is very strict about the fact that latria, adoration—what contemporary English speakers call "worship"—is to be given only to God."

Thursday, September 28, 2006
Tories prefer Rae over Ignatieff

The Toronto Star reports on an internal memo that says that the Conservatives would rather face former Ontario NDP premier Bob Rae than former Harvard professor Michael Ignatieff. The Star reports that the memo was written by Conservative national campaign chief Doug Finley:

"Addressed to the CPG, or Campaign Planning Group, the memo assesses the Liberal leadership race from a Conservative campaign perspective to determine 'which leadership candidate would be most formidible.' It came after extensive polling and focus groups conducted by the party during July and August, including surveys of both the general public and so-called election 'switchers,' who could change their vote to the Tories."

I think Ignatieff might be a tough opponent -- he could capture the imagination of the public, he is adored by the political reporters and pundits in the MSM, he has a vision for the country -- but there would be two advantages for the Conservatives if he were to become the Liberal leader.

1) Ignatieff He is to the right of Stephen Harper on Afghanistan and thus would take the issue of Canadian soldiers returning in body bags off the table for the Tories. There is also an advantage for Harper in that Ignatieff's Liberals would probably lose support on the Left to the NDP. In the places where this will happen, one of two results are likely to occur: the Liberals are weakened and the Tories win the seat (the 905 belt around Toronto, Atlantic Canada, the few rural Ontario seats the Tories don't yet have) or the Liberals lose some of their urban support and NDP pick up seats at their expense. Either way, it is a win-win for Harper's Conservatives.

2) Michael Ignatieff may have left Harvard but he is still a professor. The way he speaks (content, not style) might be off-putting to regular Canadians. One example: a good many times when he is talking about the country, especially in the context of fiscal imbalance, constitutional affairs, etc..., but at other times, too, he calls Canada, "the federation." As a professor, he thinks about the country in abstract ways, not concrete ones. Harper sold Conservative ideas because he demonstrated to Canadians how they would (positively) affect them. Ignatieff, on the other hand, is operating on the level of ideas not policies, and not even ideas that speak directly to the (concrete) values of many middle class Canadians. I think that Harper could also bait him as someone who desperately wants to re-write Canada's constitution (what academic would not love the prospect of writing a constitutional), threatening to re-open old wounds.

The point is that Ignatieff has vulnerabilities that the Tories could exploit.

The memo says that Bob Rae's vulnerabilities are centered in Ontario. That might not matter so much. He is likely to cost the Liberals votes most in ridings in which they were unlikely to win anyway. And I am convinced that the best long-term strategy for the Liberals is to be competitive in Quebec; if they are no longer a credible challenger for a major share of those seats, they will have difficulty rebuilding in Ontario. For the Liberals, the best strategy is to try to maintain what they have, renew themselves and rebuild. They won't because they are convinced they have only be given a one-election time-out. But back to what's best for the Liberals: Rae is popular in Quebec and would go a long way in maintaining what the party has there and possibly improving. The marginal losses in Ontario (what, another 10 seats?) would hardly be debilitating for the party; indeed, it would be easier to swallow than further losses in Quebec.

Kaus on the midterms

Yesterday, Slate's Mickey Kaus said it was likely that the Democrats would win the Senate but not the House, pointing to John McIntyre: "The better analogy politically for 2006 may be 1986 when the Democrats picked up 8 Senate seats and only 5 House seats."

GOP to head to Minnesota

The 2008 Republican convention will be held in Minneapolis-St. Paul Sept 1-4, 2008. The Twin Cities beat out Cleveland, New York and Tampa-St. Petersburg. Minneapolis-St. Paul were in the final three for the Democratic confab for '08, but it has withdrawn its application to host the Dems leaving New York City and Denver vying for the, er, privilege.

The last Republican presidential candidate to win the state was Richard Nixon in 1972 and the last time a national party convention was held in the city was 1892 when the GOP re-nominated Benjamin Harrison. He lost his re-election bid.

The state has the longest streak of going Democrat and has only 10 electoral votes but in its governor (Tim Pawlenty) and one of its senators (Norm Coleman) are Republicans and President George W. Bush only narrowly lost in 2004 (51% for Kerry, 48% for the president). But the heartland has been close in the last two elections -- Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa, and a little more south, Missouri -- and as Senator Coleman says, "Whoever wins those states is going to be the next president of the United States." That's assuming -- and it is a safe assumption -- that the next election could very well be like the last two with only a handful of states truly in play. At least, it seems, that is what the GOP are betting on.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006
Stat of the day

390 million: cell phone users in Red China
111 million: internet users in Red China

(Source: China: The Balance Sheet -- What the World Needs to Know Now About the Emerging Superpower)


"The very function of tradition is to bind past, present and future into one, to stimulate hope in and desire to work toward the future through commemoration of the past and its extension into the present."
--Robert Nisbet, History of the Idea of Progress

Dealing with the UN

William Rusher:

"[T]he best course may be the one proposed by the late James Burnham: for the United States to announce that it will continue supporting the beneficial activities of the United Nations in such matters as world health, but henceforth will not participate in, or vote on, its deliberations involving major political issues. (We would retain, however, our veto power, to block seriously offensive actions.) The United Nations would undoubtedly continue, and probably increase, its issuance of anti-American manifestos of one sort and another, but their essential unimportance would become steadily more apparent as the years rolled by."

What Rusher is arguing for is a more aggressive continuation of the current policy to use the UN when you need to, ignore when you should and stand in the way (mostly in the Security Council) when you must. My only quibble is that much of even the "world health" stuff is problematic, considering the strident advocacy of abortion, birth control and other depopulation schemes through the various agencies of the UN: the World Health Organization, UNICEF, even the International Labour Organization and Food and Agriculture Organization.

Economists endorse Tory financial plan

CBC reports that economists like the Conservative government's spending cuts/debt repayment. Here's the money quote: "It's been a remarkable transformation in Canada," said Joydeep Mukherji, an analyst with the Standard & Poor's debt rating agency in New York. "I think it's about time Canadians took some pride in their accomplishments and bragged to the world about what they did," he told CBC News.

Tie & Belinda

My thoughts over at The Shotgun.

Quote of the day

Christopher Buckley has answering questions from readers at the Washington Post today and was asked why characters in his novels don't smoke and drink. He didn't really answer the question but concluded thusly: "BTW, I think our next president needs to drink, if this one is any indication of the effects of teetotalling." There might be something to CB's observation: Winston Churchill drank like a fish from the moment he got up and was a much, much better war leader.

Senate races

SurveyUSA has the approval/disapproval ratings of all 100 senators. (HT: Club for Growth blog) The GOP seems to be in serious trouble -- four of the five senators with the highest disapproval ratings are Republicans who up for re-election this Fall: Conrad Burns of Montana (57%), Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania (53%), Mike DeWine of Ohio (50%), and John Kyl of Arizona (47%), although Kyl was nearly 20 points ahead of his Democratic challenger, Jim Pederson, in the August public opinion polls. Still, even if Kyl wins, a 60-40 result is a sign of what could be part of the GOP future in the region: Kyl won his second Senate term in 2000 with 79% of the vote but Arizona, like most of the formerly reliably Republican southwest, is trending Democrat. His unpopularity and the 25% drop in likely election day support is significant.

Two other worrisome races for the GOP:

Missouri: Senator Jim Talent has a poor approval/disapproval for an incumbent seeking re-election, 48%-44% (and he is behind Claire McKaskill in the polls by 3-5%).

Florida: It should have been a pick-up as Democratic Senator Bill Nelson has a approval/disapproval of 42%-39% but the GOP have been unable to capitalize as the incumbent leads Republican Katherine Harris by 20-28% in most polls.

Shop at 7-Eleven

7-Eleven was already the convenience store of choice for our family but they have only endeared themselves more because of the announcement by the company that its American franchises that sell gas will no longer use Citgo Petroleum because it is the Texas-based subsidiary of Venezuela's state-owned oil company. The AP reports that 7-Eleven spokesman Margaret Chabris said, "Regardless of politics, we sympathize with many Americans' concern over derogatory comments about our country and its leadership recently made by Venezuela's president ... Certainly Chavez's position and statements over the past year or so didn't tempt us to stay with Citgo." The story suggests that the company was worried about losing patriotic customers, but 7-Eleven did the right thing and in their public statements indicated they did it for the right reasons. Anyway, if it was just about keeping customers, they would continue to use Citgo in the Blue States, wouldn't they? Isn't Hugo Chavez more popular than President George W. Bush in California, New York and Massachusetts?

Tuesday, September 26, 2006
Stat of the day

0: the number of aircraft carriers the Chinese military has.

(Source: The Economist, September 16, 2006)


"Greed is said to be the sin of capitalist societies, envy that of socialist ones."
-- Joseph Epstein, Envy

Briefing with the enemy

From the Sunday Times:

"POLICE have agreed to consult a panel of Muslim leaders before mounting counter-terrorist raids or arrests. Members of the panel will offer their assessment of whether information police have on a suspect is too flimsy and will also consider the consequences on community relations of a raid.

Members will be security vetted and will have to promise not to reveal any intelligence they are shown. They will not have to sign the Official Secrets Act."

What exactly does considering the consequences on community relations of a police action against suspected terrorists entail? Would not hurting the feelings of Muslims trump the larger society's right to security? Or is the panel purely a meaningless excercise in PR? Sometimes I don't think the West deserves to win the War on Terror.

Missing the point

The federal government posts a surplus of $13.2 billion dollars and Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty says, "The amount of the surplus confirms what all the premiers have been saying ... that they've got more money than they've got responsibilities, whereas we've got more responsibilities than we have money." The feds taking in $13.2 billion more than it spends is not proof of the fiscal imbalance, its proof that Canada is vastly over-taxed.

Newfoundland vs. Ontario

From the Halifax Herald:

"ST. JOHN’S, N.L. — A local car dealership has launched a spoof advertisement in response to the Nissan Bonavista television commercial that pokes fun at Newfoundland accents.

The radio ad takes shots at Ontario marketing companies and Premier Dalton McGuinty’s 'nondescript' personality.

'Sure dem boys from up alon’ thinks we sounds foolish,' says a booming male character, played by Newfoundland stage actor Chuck Herriot.

'This is how marketing people from Ontario think people from Newfoundland speak,' replies a soothing feminine voice.

'They think it’s cute to make fun of the way we talk . . . we think they’re cute too — in a Dalton McGuinty, kind of nondescript way.'

The 30-second spot, which has been running on local radio stations for two weeks, was done after Nissan’s ad caused a stir in the province for its portrayal of a fast-talking car salesman lampooning a Newfoundland accent.

'It’s just a bit of a touche,' said Donna McCarthy, creative director of Dora Advertising, which was commissioned by City Honda to put together the commercial.

Using McGuinty as the archetypal Ontarian was 'a natural fit,' McCarthy said.

'He just represents a lot of that nondescript personality that is really hard for us to imitate . . . simply because there is no real Ontario personality,' McCarthy said.

Ironically, McGuinty was given a "Personality of the Year" award last week by Foreign Direct Investment."

This is sort of funny and wonderfully self-effacing, qualities common among Newfs, but I have a quibble with City Honda from Newfoundland and its advertising agency (they have ad agencies in Newfoundland?) and it is this: I get that McGuinty is nondescript and so is the province, but it is a typically statist Atlantic Canadian thing to do to identify a province with its head of government.

I'll never make fun of 'democratic' elections in Africa again

The Anchorage Daily News reports today:

"A gold-and-silver commemorative coin spun through the air Monday and landed on a sea otter pelt -- tails up -- giving challenger Bryce Edgmon the Democratic slot on the November ballot for a seat in the state House of Representatives.

He'll run against Republican Ron Bowers in the general election on Nov. 7.

It's the first time since statehood that a coin toss has decided a state race, election officials said."

Monday, September 25, 2006
Stat of the day

$194 billion: estimated amount American companies spend on R&D
$205 billion: estimated amount American companies spend on tort litigation

(Source: U.S. News and World Report, March 27, 2006)


"Freud said that 'sex is first between the ears.' That's true. Therefore we can't blame the body for sexual sins. The body is like a donkey. This was Francis of Assisi's image; he called his body 'Brother Ass.' It may be a lazy and stubborn follower, but it is a follower, not a leader. Its rider determines where it goes, and its rider is thought."
-- Peter Kreeft, Making Choices: Finding Black and White in a World of Grays

Liberal leadership stuff

Here are the Liberal front-runners according to an Ekos poll (pdf):

First choice
Rae 25%
Ignatieff 25%
Dion 17%
Kennedy 16%
Dryden 9%
Hall Findlay 3%
Volpe 2%
Brison 2%
Fry 0

Second choice
Rae 27%
Dion 27%
Ignatieff 19%
Kennedy 10%
Dryden 10%
Hall Findlay 3%
Brison 2%
Volpe 1%
Fry 0

(You can read the Toronto Star story on the poll here.)

A couple of things.

1) It is clear that members of the Liberal Party don't want the former Tory Scott Brison or the sleaze ball Joe Volpe. But That is not the same thing as saying that members of the Liberal Party who will show up next weekend to vote for delegates and first ballot commitments don't support them.

2. It is possible that Liberals are not ready for a gay leader, but I think that the fact he ran for the PC leadership just three years ago is a major factor for Brison's lack of support among rank-and-file members. That said Brison probably still has a big future in the party; 15 years from now he will be as old as Paul Martin was when he was first elected to Parliament. For that reason, I think Brison drops out early as not to damage himself politically by a disappointing finish.

3. The poll of Liberal members might be different from the actual votes to choose delegates next weekend and I am still convinced that Volpe is still much stronger than anyone gives him credit for although the latest scandal will hurt him a fair bit; but does it help deliver the Italian vote so he racks up significant first ballot committed delegates in a number of Toronto and Montreal ridings? Perhaps. Certainly not enough to win but possibly enough to keep him around. As I said on the weekend, his whole leadership bid is quixotic.

4. The race in Quebec is really close. Ekos found a close three-way race with Dion leading (30%) followed by Rae (28% and Ignatieff (27%). Did anyone expect that?

5. Greg Staples "thinks that it is time for Dion and Kennedy to play paper, scissors, rock and do a merger." That's one way to look at it, but I think that Dion and Rae have the momentum and Ignatieff is losing his shine. Many are speculating about Dion being the king-maker but he could very well end up as one of the top two contenders in Montreal. In other words, Dion is not going anywhere. Kennedy, I get the impression, still thinks he can make a go of it and influence the convention if he isn't in the top three. Anyway, it is way to early to speculate about the former Ontario MPP dropping out and throwing his support to someone else. I doubt that he will back a loser, although he may not back this race's winner -- that is, he will support someone who will either win the Liberal leadership in 2006 or is well-positioned to do so in the near future.

6. Polls such as these are of limited utility and should be taken with a grain of salt. That said, rightly or wrongly, its very existence can alter the political landscape and Rae gets a boost from appearing the front-runner, Dion gets a lift from looking strong after appearing to have stalled and Ignatieff is smarting because it simply piles on the impression that the former Harvard professor is coming up short.

Luntz focus group doesn't like Gordon Brown

The London Times reports that a focus group-like interview of 30 party "faithful, leaners and floaters" conducted by American pollster/pundit whore Frank Luntz finds that Gordon Brown is not the first or second choice of likely or possible Labour voters:

"Our Labour faithful, leaners and floaters all found Mr Brown intelligent and almost none had anything negative to say about his performance as Chancellor. On substance, he does well. But on style, the people who should be his strongest supporters instead see him as dour, dull and deceitful: an electoral disaster.

There are three reasons. First, there is the sense of “been there, done that, not again” about Mr Brown. When asked to give the first word or phrase that came to mind to describe him, half of the participants mentioned either age or years of service — and always negatively. To some, he looks and sounds just like every other politician in pre-Blair Britain: a canned stump speech and insincere sincerity. To others, he is Tony Blair redux. When one participant accidentally called him “Tony Brown” nobody laughed because everyone agreed.

Then there is the perception that Mr Brown knifed his own leader. We tested his interview with Andrew Marr where he denied involvement in a political 'coup.' No one believed him. None. It was the single most poorly received moment of the entire evening. In fact, it was the worst received interview I have ever tested in Britain.

Thirdly, Mr Brown is Scottish. To my surprise, almost half the group opposed being led by a Scotsman. I pushed them hard — and they pushed back. 'It’s not racist. I want someone who is English running England'."

If Luntz is onto anything -- and my guess is that he is although because it is Luntz, I am willing to doubt my own prejudices that are confirmed by his findings -- Brown is in troube.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

"A dead bird is an incongruity, more startling than an unexpected live bird, sure evidence to the human mind that something has gone wrong."
-- Lewis Thomas, The Lives of a Cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher

Hold off on the emissions reuction Gestapo

Earth Observatory reports that man might be able to inject sulfates into the stratosphere to thwart global warming:


A two-pronged approach to stabilizing climate, with cuts in greenhouse gas emissions as well as injections of climate-cooling sulfates, could prove more effective than either approach used separately. This is the finding of a new study by Tom Wigley of the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), published in the September 14 issue of Science.

Wigley calculates the impact of injecting sulfate particles, or aerosols, every one to four years into the stratosphere in amounts equal to those lofted by the volcanic eruption of Mt. Pintabuto in 1991. If found to be environmentally and technologically viable, such injections could provide a "grace period" of up to 20 years before major cutbacks in greenhouse gas emissions would be required, he concludes."

(HT: The Walrus blog)

Homeless World Cup

The AP reports that 500 "marginalized" -- drug addicts, alcholics, vagrants, orphans and the like -- from 48 countries are taking part in the Homeless World Cup in South Africa. A follow-up study on the participant's from last year's HWC in Scotland shows an improvement in self-esteem and motivation and more than half got jobs or resumed their education. The event even has a website for the week long event that began today and finishes up next Saturday.

Another reason to defund the CBC

Tonight on The Big Picture with Avi Lewis:

"Sunday, September 24, 2006, 7:00 p.m.
Part 2 - The Root of All Evil
Is religion the root of all evil in the world?"

Volpe out on Monday? Discepola out next election?

Joe Volpe is under scrutiny for allegedly having "improperly" signed up some new Liberal Party members in Quebec (dead members, people who were unaware the Volpe team signed them up as members -- typically Quebec politics stuff). His campaign said he will respond on Monday and there seems to be two options: come out fighting (the Toronto Star apparently only investigated members of Italian heritage, providing a potentially powerful rallying call for an important constituency within the party) or to quit. The smart money should be on quit if it were anyone but Volpe, but his entire leadership bid has thus far quixotic, so why should anything change now? I've heard that Volpe's negotiations with Michael Ignatieff's team have the Toronto MP holding out for a major cabinet post (Finance, Foreign Affairs) to throw his support behind the philosopher-backbencher.

Further good news for the Tories: the controversy could also hurt the re-election efforts of Montreal MP Nick Discepola, Volpe's national campaign chair.


The Washington Times reports on a Gallup poll that will make Republicans happy. Those likely to vote in November are evenly divided, 48-48 between the Republicans and Democrats. For some reason, President George W. Bush's job approval rating rose to 44%, a factor that might make the electorate a little more receptive to a GOP Congress. The polling numbers reverse a year-long trend that favoured the Democrats.

Steyn v. the UN

Mark Steyn turns his talents against the United Nations:

"What to do? Alan Dershowitz is a big liberal but he's a sane liberal and, unlike many of his chums, he acknowledges the threat. So what's his big idea?

He thinks Iran should be expelled from the United Nations...

Iran's president was a huge hit at the U.N. Short of bringing out some burqa-clad Rockettes and doing a couple of choruses of "This Is the Dawning of the Age of a Scary Us," he couldn't have been a bigger smash. I said a year or two back, apropos the U.N., that it's a good basic axiom that if you take a quart of ice cream and blend it with a quart of dog poop the result will taste more like the latter than the former. And last week's performances at the General Assembly were a fine illustration of that. Ahmadinejad and Hugo Chavez were the star finalists of 'UnAmerican Idol,' and, just when you need Simon Cowell, the only Brit in sight was the oleaginous Mark Malloch Brown, Kofi Annan's deputy, fawning over every crazy in town. The rest of the bigwigs reacted like Paula Abdul, able to discern good points even in fellows who boast about not having any. That's the reality the Dershowitzes refuse to confront: that structurally the U.N. enables thugs to punch above their weight."


San Diego Padres closer Trevor Hoffman snagged career save number 478 last night to tie Lee Smith for the career lead. Hoffman also holds the record for the most 30-save seasons with 11 of them, one more than Smith. Like former Padre Tony Gwynn, Hoffman's accomplishments are achieved in almost total obscurity; if he played in New York, Chicago or Los Angeles, they know doubt would be recognized as baseball gods.

Weekend List

10 most over-rated movies of all time

10. The Grapes of Wrath
9. Braveheart*
8. Forrest Gump
7. Scarface
6. Fargo
5. Back to the Future
4. American Beauty
3. 2001: A Space Odyssey
2. A Clockwork Orange
1. The English Patient

* Good but not great.

Saturday, September 23, 2006
'Live from Baghdad...'
Or, Where did all the embeds go?

Pajamas Media:

"Here’s the chart ... showing who the nine embedded reporters were covering all of Iraq on 9/19/2006. You’ll see that of those 9 reporters, 3 were from the Armed Forces’ Stars & Stripes, 1 from AFN (Armed Force Network), 1 from the Charlotte Observer, 1 from the BBC, 1 from the AP, 1 from RAI, and 1 from Polish Radio. All the rest of the 'coverage' of the Iraq war on that day came from reporters hunkered down in the hotels and other locations under the rubric 'Baghdad News Bureaus.'

So the next time you hear the phrase 'reported first hand,' you might well ask, 'Whose hand and where was it'?"

Are you a Cameroonian?

This Independent political test is funny. I'm a unreconstructed Thatcherite.

GOP to hold on in Fall?

Niall Ferguson is hardly a political pundit -- he's a historian who often likes to play pretend. But it is difficult to quarrel with his analysis of the mid-term elections that appeared last week in the Los Angeles Times. After listing the usual litany of problems the Republican face, he says:

"For three good reasons, however, I expect the Dems to be disappointed Â? just as they were two years ago.

First, on closer inspection, Iraq is still far from being a vote winner for Democrats. Many Americans still believe that invading Iraq was a rational response to 9/11, even if evidence to link Saddam Hussein to the perpetrators is conspicuous by its absence. So they buy Bush's notion of Iraq as the "central front" in the war on terror. Moreover, when asked which party they trust to wage that war, they prefer the Republicans to the Democrats by a margin of 14%.

Crucially, if asked to choose between a Republican who wants to maintain troop levels in Iraq and a Democrat seeking "immediate and orderly withdrawal," 48% of voters plump for the Republican and just 41% for the Democrat. Americans may want troop reductions; they are not ready to cut and run. If the Republicans can portray their opponents as favoring withdrawal, they win the Iraq argument.

Second, despite widespread fears over the summer, the U.S. economy looks to be landing softly. Growth has slowed, not stopped. Consumption is still growing, as are earnings. Sure, inflation is up, but unemployment is down (4.7% compared with 4.9% a year ago), and crude oil prices have dropped sharply since August, easing the pain Americans feel when they fill up their cars. The stock market has bounced back since the dog days of July. The threatened real estate crash has failed to materialize, though house prices have certainly cooled.

And to appease those Americans who blame their economic difficulties on immigration, squabbling Republicans in Congress have sidelined the president's plan for a partial amnesty for illegal immigrants.

In most democratic systems, of course, that kind of internal dissension causes parties to lose credibility. But thanks to the constitutional separation of powers, party unity matters less here. Indeed, under Karl Rove's direction, the Republican Party is adopting its own strategy of separation, allowing legislators to do whatever it takes Â? including, if necessary, criticizing their own president Â? to ensure their own political survival. This is the third and most important reason to expect a non-event in November.

IT'S AN OLD ADAGE that in the United States all politics are local. That's even more true today than it was a generation ago. Gerrymandering has tended to increase the political homogeneity of most electoral districts. This in turn increases the chances that incumbents will be reelected. Once a district has a critical mass of either Republicans or Democrats, the key to victory is to mobilize the "base" of active voters. There's much less need to woo floating voters from the center, who may in any case fail to turn out on election day. This trend explains why there's less bipartisan cooperation in Congress than there used to be. It also explains why legislators don't hesitate to badmouth the president if they feel he's out of tune with local sentiment."

I'm back and forth on how the Republicans will fare this Fall. Ultimately I am persuaded that the GOP are likely to hold onto both the House and the Senate because the Democrats have not provided a compelling reason to replace the Republicans. And the gerrymandering point is vital: very few seats are truly up for grabs. While the media says that only 40 are in play, that includes a handful of marginal Democratic seats and it is highly unlikely that all will tilt one way or another. The House of Representatives is a long-shot.

The Senate seats are another issue because of the larger, less homogeneous populations; a massive tilt one way or another is much more likely to occur at the state level than in a Congressional District. While Pennsylvania looks a little safer for Rick Santorum thanks to an incredibly inept campaign by Bob Casey Jr., I'm now convinced that the GOP will lose Ohio and that Rhode Island will be really tough, Lincoln Chafee's "independence" (read: more liberal voting record than Russ Feingold). I am still predicting Tennessee will go to Harold Ford Jr., despite the fact that the state is fairly conservative: so is Ford, for a Democrat. Often there is a surprise that few could have predicted and that is more likely to be an upset of a Republican than a Democrat. Furthermore, not one Democrat is truly vulnerable. Still, the Republicans have to lose of their current Senate seats to lose control of the Senate because in a 50-50 split, Vice President Dick Cheney tips control to the GOP. And then there is this disturbing rumour: a political reporter in the US emailed me to say that if Lincoln Chafee wins and the Senate is split 50-50, Chafee may pull a Jim Jeffords. In other words the Republicans could win on November 7 and still lose.

Democracy African style

The Daily Telegraph reports:

"Voters chose the next president of Gambia by tossing marbles into barrels yesterday.

Instead of using ballot papers, all 670,000 registered voters in the former British colony were invited to back their favourite by dropping a marble into a tub marked with the appropriate name.

Gambian election workers load ballot buckets

President Yahya Jammeh, who seized power in the tiny West African country in a coup 12 years ago, will almost certainly emerge victorious.

In the run-up to the election, Mr Jammeh jailed both the leading opposition candidates and locked-up critical journalists.

He publicly pledged to rule Gambia for 'another 40 years'."

Another reason to pray that Elizabeth II lives forever

The Daily Telegraph reports:

"The coronation of the Prince of Wales will be a "multi-faith" event.

Prayers and readings from other denominations and religions, including from the Muslim, Sikh and Jewish faiths, are expected to be included in the ceremonies marking Prince Charles's accession to the throne.

Prince Charles on a visit to a Sikh temple earlier this year

Canon John Hall, the Dean-elect of Westminster Abbey, said that the traditional Church of England coronation service must be revised to reflect society's changes since the Queen's coronation in 1953. As dean, he will be on the committee responsible for drawing up the service."

Alison Ruoff, a member of the (Anglican) General Synod, is my favourite person today. Her reply to this announcement: "We should not pander to political correctness ... There is no way that other faiths should be involved in the service. This is a Christian country and so the coronation service must remain exclusively Christian and we should not apologise for that." Amen.

Not quite

Took this political test and it determined that I was a "Capitalist Republican:

"Money makes your world go round - and it's no surprise that you always vote your wallet. You're financially successful (or plan to be), and your agenda is low tax and pro business. You don't get fired up about abortion... but mention capital gains tax, and you go crazy. You want government to be as small as possible - and to stay out of the way of business."

I don't know how they come up this. I not only "get fired up about abortion" -- I've made it a central fact of my life as it is literally my job to think about it every day. I answered that I thought abortion was "wrong" -- I even answered that sexual relations between consenting adults should be "regulated by community standards" yet probably because on these issues there is a simple black and white answer while there are various gradations on the economic/size of government questions (I always chose the most 'extreme' libertarian positions on these), I get lumped with the capitalists. Not a problem, I strongly favour the free market. My beef is with the assumption the test makes in believing that being pro-free market trumps moral issues. Yes, it says, you might be pro-life but lower taxes matter more. They're wrong. I wonder if I was "more moderate" on the economic questions if it would have assumed that I was strongly moved by abortion.

Friday, September 22, 2006
Welcome to the 20th century

The London Times has some fascinating details about what is probably the most modern Africa country, South Africa:

* Refrigerators are considered a luxury item for many blacks;

* 40% of the country is not hooked up to the electricity grid;

* The country is expected to reach electricity capacity next year.

The (too) brief article seems to blame, at least partially, private enterprise for the country's 25% unemployment rate.

Ganji on Iran-US relations and the aspirations of the Iranian people

In "a letter to America" published in the Washington Post, Iranian dissident Akbar Ganji says:

"In Iran, we hope to achieve our goal of a new polity and a new constitution not by violence but by following a peaceful and democratic path. And in this struggle we need moral support from all freedom-loving people around the world -- particularly the United States.

We want the world to know that our rulers do not represent the Iranian people and that their religion is not the religion of the entire nation. We ask that in shaping its policies toward the Iranian regime, the United States not overlook the interests of Iranian civil society. In particular, we hope that America listens to those in Iran who fear that policies intended to contain the current crisis might in fact lead to a greater crisis, and to war.

We are convinced that the outbreak of a new war in the Middle East, particularly against a large and populous country such as Iran, would destabilize the region and the world. And it would deprive us of the chance to found a peaceful and democratic political order. We are also against policies, such as economic sanctions, that bring extraordinary hardship to the lives of ordinary Iranians.

It is both possible and desirable to solve the problems between the United States and Iran through direct talks. Such diplomacy will best serve the interests of the American and Iranian people if it is conducted in a transparent fashion. This transparency would not only make it impossible for advocates of war to increase tensions but also would help isolate them. Iranian democrats are opposed to secret diplomacy.

... But the dangers of the Tehran regime are not limited to the nuclear question. The regime is dangerous mostly because it is willing to brutally trample on the democratic and human rights of the Iranian people. It is dangerous because it is willing to create gender apartheid in the name of religion and to suppress religious and ethnic minorities. Finally, it is dangerous because it considers all forms of dissent unforgivable sins. The real goal of the nuclear program is to make these policies permanent. In its negotiations with the Iranian regime, the West must not overlook this important fact."

Thursday, September 21, 2006
Absolutely classless

Sports Illustrated has a painful story Alex Rodriguez's troubles in New York.

Here's what a few team-mates said about A-Rod:

"'He's guessing,' Giambi said, 'and he's doing a bad job of it, which is inevitable when you guess as often as he guesses. He's squeezing the f------ sawdust out of the bat.'

Said another teammate, 'I think he ought to get his eyes checked. I'm not kidding. I don't think he's seeing the ball.'

And another: 'I honestly think he might be afraid of the ball'."

Here's another Giambi quote about A-Rod: "Alex doesn't know who he is. We're going to find out who he is in the next couple of months." Is Giambi implying that Rodriguez is a fraud?

What I don't like about the article are the details about Rodriguez being called into office meetings with manager Joe Torre, the criticism of hitting coach Don Mattingly, the innuendo and back-biting of various team-mates. But reading Tom Verducci's article you realize there is no team among these mates:

"One day last month, wading into that current, I asked Rodriguez whom he has relied on most during his difficult summer. He first mentioned Cynthia.

But to whom has he turned on this Yankees team?

He looked down and thought in silence. Ten seconds passed.

Finally he said, 'Rob Thomson.' Thomson is the team's special-assignment coach who throws batting practice.

'And Mo. Mariano is the best. Those three.'

And that was it."

A-Rod is having some serious problems this year, probably psychological. He's seeing a shrink for issues related to the fact that his father abandoned him. The New York press, sports talk radio and some fans have been all over him for opening up about his vulnerability. A-Rod also seems disproportionately worried about how others feel about him. For all the great statistics, indescribable talent and the $25 million per year, Alex Rodriguez is, by everyone's measure, quite insecure. So what the hell were his Yankee team-mates thinking in talking so damn openly to Tom Verducci? What did they hope to accomplish? I get that they are frustrated but they knew, when talking to Verducci, that the article would appear just before the post-season. Wouldn't it be reasonable to assume that their frankness could further hurt A-Rod's ability to contribute to the team when they most need him? And what about next year? You have to suit up, play and shower beside the guy for the foreseeable future.

The performance of the Yankees who talked to Verducci is much worse than A-Rod's performance on the field.

Japan set to become a real country

Today, Shinzo Abe replaced the term-limited Japanese Liberal Democratic Party leader and Prime Minister, Junichiro Koizumi. Koizumi was a reform-minded leader and while he didn't get as far he wanted, he probably began a process of change in both his party (to make it more open) and the economy (privatizing the bank/post office that dominates the Japanese economy). Abe seems likely to continue making progress in this area. Most importantly, however, he has committed himself to an undertaking that was close to the heart of his predecessor but never begun: amending Japan's constitution so it can have a full-fledged military, one that can participate in foreign interventions in a less limited way that it does currently. This is an important step for Japan and the United States. Not having to provide Japan a military umbrella will allow Washington to have a more flexible military. One hopes that is will work alongside Japanese forces with some frequency.

Feeling sad? Die!

Switzerland gets ready to open Pandora's Box. The Daily Telegraph reports:

"Britons suffering from severe depression may soon be able to opt for assisted suicide in a Swiss clinic, its founder claimed yesterday.

Ludwig Minelli, who established the Dignitas institute in Zurich eight years ago, said a case going before the Swiss supreme court next month involves a Swiss patient suffering from bipolar disorder, also known as manic depression, who wants the right to an assisted suicide."

First the teriminally ill. Then the disabled. Then the depressed. Then ... who? Is there no end to who society will kill with a clear conscience.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006
At the Rogers Center tonight ...

Went to the Yankees-Blue Jays game tonight. The Yanks lost 3-2 but clinched the division when 30 minutes after the end of their game, the Minnesota Twins beat the Boston Red Sox 8-2.

Toronto played a great game and second baseman Aaron Hill had a superb game with the glove (despite one little foul up); he stole at least two hits from the Yanks. I've said before that the problem with Toronto this year was really their talent (although they have holes and holes, especially in pitching, which should have been expected and thus prepared for), but rather that they simply don't play like a championship-caliber team. This is the first game I've been at this year where I haven't seen an amateur error made by the Jays. If they played like this throughout the year, they'd probably be 3-4 games closer to the Wild Card spot and in second in the division. But it's too little, too late. Perhaps its playing without the pressure of competing for the playoff spot that allows them to play more disciplined ball. Who knows. Ultimately, it no longer matters.

The highlight for me in tonight's game, however, was Bernie Williams' homerun. It was probably his last I will ever see live. I've been down on Williams this year (and last) -- I don't think he deserves a spot on the Yankees squad and certainly doesn't deserve a spot in the starting lineup whether in centerfield where he is a liability or DH where he underperforms compared to other designated hitters -- but he is one of the great all-time Yankees.

We never needed Hitchens anyway

Kathy Shaidle says beware of Christopher Hitchens because he is 1) sometimes untruthful, 2) sometimes full of it and 3) a little bit naive. It is tempting to fully embrace someone of Hitchens's stature when he crosses the floor and takes up swords with former enemies, but is he really a friend? I think the best (yet cynical) way to look at his take on the War on Terror is to see it as part of his pattern of contrarianism: he embraced the WoT post 9/11 to be contrary to the Left, his usual friends. Maybe that's too cynical, but if we could ever honestly find out why he has done what he's done over the past five years, I'd bet my interpretation is correct.


Send them to paul_tuns[AT]

Second thoughts on Sweden

Earlier this week I suggested that the political winds in Sweden were not blowing in a conservative direction. Perhaps I was wrong. Based on everything I read previously, it appeared that the centre-right alliance led by prime minister-elect Fredrik Reinfeldt was not going to do much to challenge the socialist status quo. (That socialist comment is not mere rhetoric; a common economic definition of socialism is when all levels of governments expenditures' account for more than 50% of GDP, which they do in Sweden.)

Anyway, the Financial Times reports that the new government plans to sell a number of state-run enterprises and eventually, perhaps, some public service companies:

"The new government’s policy is expected to involve a three-stage period of privatisation and deregulation over the next three to five years, bankers said.

The first stage involves the sale of stakes in listed companies, then the sale of unlisted state-owned groups and finally the possible sale of public service companies, such as utilities. It will see the sale of 20 per cent of Nordea; 45 per cent of TeliaSonera, the telecoms group; 7 per cent of OMX, the stock market operator; and 20 per cent of SAS."

There already is a fair bit of competition within the public school system, but it appears that the new government will be opening that a little more, too. Another article ("Alliance set to show mettle on policies," dead tree version only), reports that the new government will also make it easier to employ young workers by eliminating the employer's tax on employee wages for those under 20 years of age and halving it for workers between the ages of 20 and 25. Contrary to some reports that I've read, it appears that Reinfeldt is also interested in reducing unemployment benefits. The hope is to spur the able-bodied young to find work and make it easier for companies, particularly small businesses, to hire them. While the official unemployment rate in Sweden runs less than 6%, critics of the (old) government estimate the real number may be three times higher than that when you take into account the number of older workers on permanent disability and the number of young in government make-work programs.

A word of caution amidst the euphoria: the FT reports that the alliance, united in opposition, might be more fragile in government. In opposition, the four parties (the New Moderate, Folk Liberal, Centre, and Christian Democrats) never agreed on a shadow finance minister and there are concerns about the jostling for cabinet posts in the upcoming months. Also, the four parties put aside their differences while in opposition and during the election campaign, but as reporter David Ibison notes, "there is no guarantee this unity will remain intact." One Social Democrat analyst is quoted: "The Alliance members are all going to have to deliver to their different groups."

Another caution about the euphoria: I noted how close the voting was (48.1% for the centre-right alliance to 46.2% for the Social Democrats and their allies). A little more troubling is that the Social Democrats, even after the widespread dissatisfaction with the perceived corruption and arrogance of the governing party, still won the most seats: 130 compared to 97 for the New Moderate Party. Overall, the centre-right alliance won 178 seats compared to 171 for the liberal and socialist parties. Not a ringing endorsement for change.

But despite these political realities, policy-wise there is reason to celebrate the change in government in Sweden. My initial skepticism appears to be unwarranted, although it would be nice to see taxes cut. Indeed, one of the FT stories I read, indicated that capital gains taxes might actually be increased. What's a conservative doing increasing capital gains taxes?

Here's Johan Norberg on what to expect:

"Don´t expect a liberal revolution. But if you compare it to other governments, my guess is that this government will lead Europe in reform.

It´s true that the moderates were...well...more moderate this time around. But on the other hand, the three other parties are more radical than they have been before, and will push in a more radical direction, for example centern wants more labour market reform and more open borders, folkpartiet wants lower taxes on high incomes and more free trade, and the christian democrats attacks the taxes on petrol and properties."

Some of those pet projects for the alliance members may collide with the agreed-upon priorities, like the promise not to cut income taxes. We'll have to wait and see.

Soccer scandal

This time it's England's turn.

Denmark goes for the dogs

The Copenhagen Post reports (HT: Colby Cosh):

"The animal sex business is thriving in Denmark. Next week, parliament is taking up the issue and will determine whether a law change regarding bestiality should be implemented. Daily newspaper 24timer decided to find out for themselves whether the animal sex trade in Denmark is as wild as it is made out to be.

In just a few hours work, the newspaper found 22 Danish website adverts for bestiality and managed to arrange meetings with two providers of animal sex via SMS and e-mail. Germany, Sweden and Norway are the industry's primary customers, according to 24timer, and a website in Germany refers to Denmark as one big 'animal whorehouse'."

Here's my Editor's Desk column from January 2003 while England was in the process of liberalizing its bestiality laws entitled Dogs and Mad Englishmen.


Time interviews Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and there are several interesting tidbits. He repeatedly invokes the word 'logic' as a way of sorting through international issues, finding peace and settling the nuclear program standoff. He describes the chants by Iranian demonstrators of "Death to America" as a (logical?) reaction to "aggression" and "bullying tactics". Interesting, isn't it, that to protest agression and bullying that anyone would support death in reaction? Scott MacLeod, who conducted the interview, never challenged Ahmadinejad when the Iranian leader said in response to questions about the Islamic Republic's program or right to acquire nukes which was the lame "We are opposed to nuclear weapons." But pay careful attention to this answers about Israel, Jews and Zionism:

"TIME: You have been quoted as saying Israel should be wiped off the map. Was that merely rhetoric, or do you mean it?

AHMADINEJAD: People in the world are free to think the way they wish. We do not insist they should change their views. Our position toward the Palestinian question is clear: we say that a nation has been displaced from its own land. Palestinian people are killed in their own lands, by those who are not original inhabitants, and they have come from far areas of the world and have occupied those homes. Our suggestion is that the 5 million Palestinian refugees come back to their homes, and then the entire people on those lands hold a referendum and choose their own system of government. This is a democratic and popular way. Do you have any other suggestions?

TIME: Do you believe the Jewish people have a right to their own state?

AHMADINEJAD: We do not oppose it. In any country in which the people are ready to vote for the Jews to come to power, it is up to them. In our country, the Jews are living and they are represented in our Parliament. But Zionists are different from Jews.

TIME: Have you considered that Iranian Jews are hurt by your comments denying that 6 million Jews were killed in the Holocaust?

AHMADINEJAD: As to the Holocaust, I just raised a few questions. And I didn't receive any answers to my questions. I said that during World War II, around 60 million were killed. All were human beings and had their own dignities. Why only 6 million? And if it had happened, then it is a historical event. Then why do they not allow independent research?

TIME: But massive research has been done.

AHMADINEJAD: They put in prison those who try to do research. About historical events everybody should be free to conduct research. Let's assume that it has taken place. Where did it take place? So what is the fault of the Palestinian people? These questions are quite clear. We are waiting for answers."

Apparently Ahmadinejad's concern about Jews and the Holocaust is the quality of the scholarship. And for that, Israel should be wiped off the map.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006
Benedict XVI & Islam

The best commentary on the Regensburg speech is at First Things: Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, Robert T. Miller and Robert Louis Wilkens. I want to bring to your attention a point made by Miller that looks beyond the hoopla and speech itself, instead focusing on Pope Benedict XVI's approach to Catholic-Islamic relations:

"The rumor has long been that Benedict intends to take a new diplomatic approach toward the Muslim states, an approach based on reciprocity, i.e., a demand that the religious freedom accorded by European states to their Muslim minorities be accorded by Muslim states to their Christian minorities. He intends, in other words, to hold Muslim states to the same standard that the Western states hold themselves. This would be a significant break with the diplomacy of John Paul II and former Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo Sodano, which avoided criticism of Muslim states in the hopes of obtaining good treatment for Christians living within their borders. Under Benedict XVI, it seems, there will be no more appeasement."

Another good commentary examines the intellectual and theological aspects of Benedict's speech. Here is Daniel Johnson in yesterday's New York Sun:

"So what was the pope really saying in that lecture he gave in Regensburg, his old stamping ground in Bavaria? It was a rich and elegant reflection on the rationality of faith, couched in the erudite language of a very German philosophical discourse.

But the message was, at heart, a straightforward one. The Jewish or Christian God acts in accordance with reason: In the beginning was the Word, the Logos. Benedict emphasizes that this new, logocentric understanding of God is already present in the Hebrew Bible, long before the fusion of Jerusalem and Athens in the New Testament. Our knowledge of God -- the God of Israel or the God of Christianity -- emerges in the unfolding of the encounter between faith and reason.

The contribution of Hellenic thought to this gradual enlightenment is, for Benedict, essential. He laments the "dehellenization" of Christianity since the Reformation. Its effect, he thinks, has been to "relegate religion to the realm of subcultures" and to treat scientific rationality as if it had nothing whatever to do with faith. "The West has long been endangered by this aversion to the questions which underlie its rationality," he warns. If the West ignores this theological perspective, it "can only suffer great harm."

But the Pope was saying that there is an alternative to the Jewish or Christian God: the God of medieval Islam. Allah is "absolutely transcendent," above even rationality. Benedict cites a Muslim authority to the effect that "God is not bound even by his own word."

It is in this context that the pope invokes the Emperor Manuel II Paleologus, who recorded his dialogue with a learned Persian Muslim about the year 1400. Byzantium would finally succumb to Turkish conquest only half a century later, and Manuel wants to know how the doctrine of jihad can be justified, given that it is incompatible with God as Logos. For this Hellenic Christian, Muhammad's command to spread Islam by the sword must indeed be "evil and inhuman."

Yesterday, the pope insisted that he did not agree with Manuel. But it is clear that he sympathized with this monarch of a doomed Christian civilization enough to use him as a mouthpiece through which he could pose his own implicit questions to Islam. Does the Muslim understanding of Allah allow rational debate about the morality of violence, given that the doctrine of jihad is a central pillar of Islam? If Allah is above reason, might violent jihad, including terrorism, be not merely justifiable but obligatory, as many Muslim scholars argue?

By now, the answer to these questions is clear: churches firebombed in the West Bank and Gaza, a nun murdered in Somalia. Such persecution is, alas, routine in many Muslim lands, and Catholics are not the only victims. But it is clear that Muslim leaders -- even those of "pro-Western" countries such as Turkey or Pakistan -- are not yet ready for the "frank" dialogue proposed by the pope. By pointing out that violence is a part of medieval Islam, not a "distortion," as Western liberals like to think, Benedict has touched a raw nerve.

No, this pope is not naive. It is our liberal, theologically illiterate politicians who are naive. We are already at war -- a holy war, which we may lose.

Nor is he inconsistent. The Ratzinger of old, his skill in disputation honed over many years of patiently defending Catholic orthodoxy against liberal or secular opponents, was never going to duck the long-postponed doctrinal confrontation with Islam. In his subtle, scholarly way, he is urging the rest of us to face the fact that if we have no faith, we cannot hope to withstand the onslaught of a resurgent Islam.

Benedict is well aware of the risks, not least to his own life, of speaking out. Like his great Polish predecessor, this "German shepherd" has the courage of his convictions. Thank God he does: Without convictions, our courage will surely fail us."

Monday, September 18, 2006
Sweden might have shifted course

It is easy to get excited at the news that the Social Democrats lost the general election in Sweden and are out of power for the first time in 12 years. They where seen to be corrupt and arrogant. But as The Economist noted a few weeks ago and the Globe and Mail reported yesterday (both are behind the subscribers' wall), Fredrik Reinfeldt, leader of the centre-right New Moderate Party and leader of the four-party opposition alliance, is one of those David Cameronesque leaders who has promised not to do anything terribly different than the government in power; he has vowed not to cut taxes, not to dismantle the welfare state (the New York Times uses the word "revise" the welfare state) and has no plans to introduce flexibility into Sweden's woefully rigid labour markets. And the election day results, especially considering recent scandals plaguing the governing party, are hardly a ringing endorsement for massive change: 48.1% for the New Moderate Party and its alliance compared with 46.2% for the Social Democrats and their allies. What does the future hold? Closer relations with Europe and perhaps America but massive unemployment, a million people getting paid not to work and a tax rate amongst the highest in the developed world.

Sunday, September 17, 2006
Have yourself a banal little nine-eleven

Writing in the Sun-Times, Mark Steyn notes the wimpy 9/11 commentary and commemorations:

"The proper tone for 9/11 commemorations is to be sad about all the dead -- 'the lost' -- but in a very generalized soft-focus way. Not a lot of specifics about the lost, and certainly not too many quotes from those final phone calls from the passengers to their families, like Peter Hanson's last words before Flight 175 hit the World Trade Center: 'Don't worry, Dad. If it happens, it will be very fast.' That might risk getting readers worked up, especially if they see the flight manifest:

'Peter Hanson, Massachusetts

Susan Hanson, Massachusetts

Christine Hanson, 2, Massachusetts'

No, best to stick to a limpidly fey, tastefully mopey, enervatedly passive prose style that suggests nothing very much can be done about the incomprehensible lost. This tasteful passivity is the default mode of the age: Five years ago it was striking, even in the immediate aftermath, how many radio and TV trailers for blood drives and other relief efforts could only bring themselves over the soupy music track to refer vaguely to 'the tragic events,' as if any formulation more robust might prove controversial."

Do environmentalists care about people at all?

The Sunday Telegraph reports that the World Health Organization is asking environmental groups not to oppose the use of DDT in the developing world. The WHO has itself reversed its anti-DDT position as part of its efforts to fight malaria. Said Arata Kochi, the director of the WHO's malaria department: "I am here today to ask you, please help save African babies as you are helping to save the environment. African babies do not have a powerful movement … to champion their well-being."

Wolfowitz deserves support

Francis Fukuyama wrote at AI cont'd, the blog for The American Interest, about the challenge Paul Wolfowitz faces in attempting to place anti-corruption and good governance at the top of the World Bank's agenda. He explains why Wolfowitz wants to do this and the challenges the head of the World Bank faces and concludes pretty gloomily:

"The idea that the Bank will simply sit on loans and aid going to poor African countries until they dramatically improve their governance is itself wholly unrealistic, given this larger political climate.

If an international organization were truly serious about tackling the problem of corruption, however, sitting on aid is precisely what it would have to do. This is why the single most successful effort to spread good governance around the world is the European Union’s accession process. Unlike the Bank and its loans, the EU’s member states are not eager to expand membership in their club. This means that their conditionality is properly back-loaded: no one gets the big plum of EU membership until they have satisfied its governance criteria. This has put countries like Romania, Bulgaria, and Turkey under the gun in a way that the Bank could never do."

But the World Bank doesn't work like that; it is in the business of handing out loans. And part of the problem is that Jeffrey Sachs, Bono, Bob Geldolf and other do-gooders are continously pushing for more foreign aid, for immediate relief of the horrible conditions under which most Africans (due to no fault of their own) find themselves. Wolfowitz argues and studies have shown that it is almost pointless to continue giving the developing world when so much of it is siphoned off the top by corrupt (or at least unaccountable) leaders is pretty close to useless. The World Bank is not in the business of giving emergency or humanitarian relief so cutting off countries where corruption is rife makes sense in the long term and does not threaten the lives of poor Africans in the near term.

Why should we listen to liberals anymore?

In his Washington Post column, George F. Will writes about the not very good new book from Thomas B. Edsall, Building Red America: The New Conservative Coalition and the Drive for Permanent Power. Will hangs Edsall with his own words, quoting him repeatedly to show how completely out of touch he (and most liberals) are. But here's the money 'graph:

"Edsall complains that conservatives pursue an agenda that does not have the public's 'decisive support.' Whatever that means, liberals such as Edsall are ineligible to make that complaint. They increasingly have abandoned persuasion and legislation and resorted to litigation and judicial fiats to advance an agenda the public finds unpersuasive."

It is easier to fool a few judges most of the time than the public at large some of the time. Hence courts not persuasion.

So right and so wrong

Writing in the Los Angeles Times, James Traub, author of the forthcoming The Best Intentions: Kofi Annan and the U.N. in the Era of American World Power, provides what be an example of back-to-back paragraphs being so right and so wrong in their assessments:

"Annan wants the U.N. to be so much more than it is, but it sometimes feels like he's the only one who does. His highly ambitious campaign to reform the institution's doctrines and machinery barely avoided catastrophic failure; the achievements, on humanitarian intervention and human rights enforcement and 'peace-building,' were almost eclipsed by the divisiveness of the debate itself. And despite Annan's very cordial relations with President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the next secretary-general may face an even tougher job of incorporating the U.S. into the U.N. than Annan did.

One comes back, always, to the geopolitical facts of life. The U.N., at least that part dealing with issues of peace and security, cannot be any more effective than its most powerful members want or permit it to be. If China and Russia defend the sovereign rights of abusive regimes tooth and nail, if the U.S. treats the Security Council as either a nuisance or a rubber stamp, if leading Third World nations view reform as a conspiracy designed to rob them of power, then it won't make much difference who succeeds Annan."

The first paragraph is wrong: others certainly want the UN to succeed (especially if that means neutering the United States); Kofi Annan's reforms were mild and, if fully implemented, would centralize power in the corrupt/inept Secretariat; the idea that there were achievements in the realms of humanitarian intervention and human rights enforcement is laughable, dismissed with the single word, 'Darfur'. (Other words, however, could also be chosen: Zimbabwe, North Korea, Niger.)

The second paragraph gets to the essence of the problem with the UN: the lack of political will of member states. Traub doesn't specifically say this but illustrates it with his examples.

Israel blew it

Michael Totten interviews Yaacov Lozowick, archivist at Yad Vashem and author of Right to Exist: A Moral Defense of Israel's Wars about Israel's Hezbollah War this summer. Lozowick is a right-leaning critic of the way the war was executed:

"Lozowick: It was stupid because we stumbled into what…it wasn’t a full-fledged war, but it was pretty close to it. From the perspective of the people living up north it was a full-fledged war. So we stumbled into what was an almost full-fledged war with absolutely no prior strategy. If you look – and you don’t have to go back far, we had an election here in March – you can go back and look at the election campaign, it was all of six months ago, and you will not find Lebanon mentioned once. It was totally off the map. It was not a subject that interested anybody. It was off our screen. We had left Lebanon in 2000. Those of us who are educated enough to follow the newspaper and to remember what is says knew that Hezbollah was building this tremendous armory of weapons that were aimed at us. We put it in the way back of our minds, didn’t deal with it, and we went to war with them with a prior notice of about 32 seconds. So that’s one very strange thing.

The second one was that over the next two days Olmert defined for us what the goals were. And they were goals that we could definitely agree with, but they were not realistic.

And the third thing was that after taking us to war in 32 seconds and having defined goals which were very…far reaching goals, he then did nothing to make them happen. He just squandered. He wasted time. There has never been a war – except maybe 1948 – that Israel started out with as much diplomatic…if not backing at least it was acquiescence…as this one, right? The Americans were backing us. Tony Blair was backing us. The Germans, the Czechs, and the Poles were sort of backing us. And most of the West was saying okay, well, you know, let’s pretend we don’t like it, but if you kill the Hezbollah that’s fine. We’ve never been in that situation. Those are better opening cards than we’ve ever had."

Thursday, September 14, 2006
Some people have too much

That applies to those who made this incredible four pool table ball clearing trick and those who watch it.

The only thing less funny than reading Scott Feschuk...

... is listening to his daily Macleans audio blog. Reminds me of a comment a Liberal "strategist" (read: one-time in the employ of an MP's office, small-time donor and hanger-on) said at a party I was at shortly after Feschuk was hired as a speechwriter for then Prime Minister Paul Martin: "Sounds, smells and looks like upchuck." Someone (I don't know who it was) added: "But he has not of the benefits of upchuck."

Words don't mean anything

Mark Steyn was interviewed by Brad Miner at the Compass Books blog. (HT: Relapsed Catholic) The interview is worth reading and the first comment from an Aussie about Steyn being a one-trick pony is worth commenting on (he is but so what? It's an amazing trick that pony can do so sit back and enjoy it every time) but I had to laugh at this comment:

"Mark Steyn is 2nd to none, except Rush Limbaugh in telling Free People the truth."

That would make Steyn second to one: Rush Limbaugh. Right?

Some belated 9/11 thoughts

I have only two things to add to the seemingly endless commentary and reflection on the fifth anniversary of 9/11 and although a few others have said it, they are worth repeating.

9/11 did not change the world, it changed our way of looking at it. The "post 9/11 world" is exactly the same as the pre 9/11 world: one in which terrorists can board an airplane and turn it into a weapon of mass destruction and one in which many Muslims hate the West and are willing to use violence to change or destroy us. While we are now aware of the dangers, the dangers existed before 9/11, indeed made themselves apparent to those with eyes to see on numerous occasions. In a slightly different context (itself worth reading), Russ Kuykendall says, "What changed on September 11th, 2001? Not 'the narrative.' Only that some who were formerly oblivious could no longer pretend the narrative is not unfolding." (Although as Mark Steyn noted in a NRO Symposium, many are back to pretending that 9/11 did not happen and that it has no consequences for how the United States prosecutes its war on terror; John Kerry on the weekend was back to touting a law enforcement approach that was favoured by the "pre 9/11" Clinton administration.) The danger of terrorism preceeded that infamous date we now associate with murderous politically motivated violence. Many people talk about the post-9/11 world as the end of the peaceful times between the end of the Cold War and the new war on terror, but such times are a mirage.

The second point is about the incredibly dumb question of "are we safer?" Remember the commentary on the evening of September 11, 2001 and the days and weeks after? Remember the near unanimous position of the experts and feeling among the public that the question was "not if but when" terrorists would strike next and that many assumed there would be another strike within two or three years, probably even the next 12 months? Well, the United States just recognized the fifth anniversary of 9/11 and there has not been another terrorist attack on U.S. soil. Sure there has been bombings in Bali, Spain and England, not to mention Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere, but those were not the places that the policy experts and public were talking about five years ago. The United States took the war to the terrorists instead of waiting for the terrorists to come after Americans again and that has made the United States a safer place. That aggressive war on terror and the recognition by millions of Americans of the enemy; it will now be impossible for a group of young Muslim men -- or presumably any threatening individuals -- to commandeer a plane and fly it into a building. The plane may be lost like Flight 93, but it won't be used as a weapon against a major U.S. city. Are we safer? Of course we are. Knowledge is power as the cliche goes, but it is true in the War on Terror. And for all the debacle in democratizing Iraq, it has forced a new theatre for the War on Terror away from American soil. I don't mean to sound callous, but it is better that American soldiers are the casualties, than American civilians. But I am convinced that the number of soldiers (2,500) is less than what might otherwise been lost in the U.S. had President George W. Bush not prosecuted his (imperfect) war against Islamic terrorists. Guns are much more successful at breaking up the terror network that warrants.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006
Back to not blogging

I have been in bed, drugged into near unconsciousness since Saturday due to a ridiculously small 2mm kidney stone. Somehow, this tiny thing has the capacity to put grown men entirely out of commission. The doctors say it is the closest thing to childbirth that men can experience and from what I've gone through so far, I must say that I'm glad Christina is giving birth to our fifth child, not me. Despite my suffering, my dear wife delights in mocking my "back labour" and other maladies similar to that which she experiences.

The upside is that it has gotten me out of work; the downside is that I haven't gotten a word written on my book in the last four days and don't anticipate doing so until near the end of the week. This morning, I took two naps with reading a Western Standard article (that I enjoyed); even reading is exhausting. As has these two blog entries. See ya later.


The Boston Red Sox are having a "horrible year" with a 76-67 record (531 winning percentage). That puts them eight games out of the Wild Card spot and 10 games out of the AL East division lead. But if they were playing in the National League, they'd have the second best record. The Toronto Blue Jays (75-69) would be in the Wild Card position.

Friday, September 08, 2006
Neuhaus on things

Earlier this week, Fr. Richard John Neuhaus blogged about spending time at the family cottage on the Ontario-Quebec border, spending time there with the Weigels, the joys of iPod, and Canadian politics. It's a wonderfully rambling post that will richly reward its reading but I especially enjoyed this tidbit about holding dual citizenship in Canada and the US: "I suppose I could vote there and, if so, would likely vote for Stephen Harper of the Conservative Party." That's quite the endorsement.

Thursday, September 07, 2006
Liberal policies fodder for laughs

I read Michael Ignatieff's policy book ("Agenda for Nation Building" is an incredible 42 pages!) earlier today and just finished Ken Dryden's ("A Big Canada" which is a much more modest 26 pages). This is from Dryden's and I also spit out my beer and popcorn (okay, Coke and popcorn) when I read this on page 13:

"I want more women in politics so more women have a chance. I want more women in politics so politics will be done better."

That sounds so high schoolish.

I want Ken Dryden to win the Liberal leadership because he would be an endless source of amusement as leader of the opposition and on the campaign trail in the next election -- even more so than Joe Volpe. Unfortunately, I think Dryden is likely to drop out of the leadership race by the end of October when it becomes clear that he isn't finishing in the top three or four in Montreal, which will hurt his future in the party. (Ditto for Scott Brison.) But one can hope for that this intellectual lightweight sticks around politics for a long time. And I say that as a political observer, not as a constituent (which I am).

Better late than never ...

... and still quicker than the UN. Sorry that I didn't post this earlier, but the conclusion from the editorial of The New Republic from last Friday is worth noting:

"Asking the United Nations to end a genocide is a formula for ensuring that the genocide will not end speedily--or, worse, will end on the perpetrators' schedule, which is to say, only when the killing is complete. We could have chosen another path. We could have bypassed the maddeningly slow U.N. machinery, assembled a coalition of allies under the banner of nato, and dispatched troops to Darfur ourselves--without consent from, or apologies to, the men in Khartoum who orchestrated this evil. The United States could have led the way. We still could. But doing so would require a change of heart from the Bush administration and its allies. After all, the reason we have chosen to act through the United Nations is because we evidently lack the will to act on our own--not to mention the sense of urgency."

Cameron in India

UK Conservative leader David Cameron blogs his trip to India (HT: Globalization Institute). During the trip there, Cameron suggests an EU-India free trade agreement.

GOP in serious trouble

An acquaintance in the U.S. passed on excerpts of a note from a GOP strategist reacting to internal polls in which the strategist states: "I don't think we'll lose 30 seats." The gist of the poll and advice to the GOP was go on offense because the internal polls indicate a loss of 30-40 GOP seats in the House (confirming what Robert Novak wrote a few weeks back) and 4-7 Senate seats (seven!). The gist of the response from the strategist was that they didn't have to do anything because although they will lose a few seats, Americans shudder at the thought of Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House or Harry Reid as the Senate Majority Leader. Complacency can be a horrible thing. Note to Republicans: the Paul Martin Liberals in Canada didn't bother engaging the Conservatives in early December 2005 because the campaign team was convinced that Canadians would never entertain the possibility of a Stephen Harper government. In January, Canadians gave Harper a minority government. I shudder at the thought of Speaker Pelosi but I don't dismiss it.

Why are auto sales going up?

The National Post reported that auto sales are up in August an incredible 7.8% compared to the same month last year; south of the border, sales are up 0.2%. Part of the reason, the Post explains, is the robust economy in western Canada and Newfoundland. Part of the reason is that car companies lowered prices in anticipation of a bad summer for sales and part of the reason is "the availability of product" -- if you have the cars, people buy them. But the story misses one other important factor: the 1-point reduction of the GST at the beginningo of the summer which saves consumers $300 on a $30,000 purchase. It may not be a huge factor but I think it was worth mentioning.