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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Monday, April 30, 2007
Nasty little facts always ruin a good ideological argument

Tim Worstall presents five facts that show, "the difference in average incomes between men and women is more to do with children and choices of career than it is to do with discrimination." I wish I could find an old column I wrote for the Hamilton Spectator in which I said that the gender wage gap in 2000 represented a victory for women because it reflected the choices they made rather than discrimination. I got a few nasty letters from women saying I'll never know the sacrifices they make to raise their children. I do know the economic sacrifices families make by having a spouse, usually the woman, stay home to have and take care of the children and I appreciate those financial sacrifices although there are other benefits from doing so. I admit those choices also have consequences in the job market: women self-removed from the workforce miss out on promotions, pay increases, etc... that men who have uninterrupted employment do not. These facts account for much of the so-called gender gap. This is neither good or bad, it just is. Or is economics sexist?

Interesting question

Over at Samizdata earlier this weekend, Johnathan Pearce raised the issue of his favourite passage from a novel. More than 50 responses so far and they are great fun to read through. I'd have to give this one some thought, but I'm partial to the beginning of The Hobbit, a book that I didn't much like but which is memorably opened. With some more thought I'd probably chose something else from Tolkein or more likely a passage from Anthony Powell, P.G. Wodehouse or Peter de Vries.

So now liberals are concerned about the unborn

But only if it helps them push their environmental agenda. According to the Montreal Gazette, the Liberal candidate for Papineau says:

"[Justin] Trudeau spoke of the need to 'unblock' the riding and reject the Conservative party’s vision on social justice and the environment, saying their stand on the environment was threatening the future of children and of his unborn child."

Sunday, April 29, 2007
NDP & Quebec

The Montreal Gazette headline: "NDP plots Quebec breakthrough."

Reality headline: "NDP leader outlines election strategy after smoking pot."

While on the topic of British politics

Writing in the (London) Times, Irwin Stelzer says that elections matter, especially when voters have a choice between distinct options (as they do in France presently). Of voters, Stelzer says:

"In France, they must choose between Nicolas Sarkozy’s move to the right and freer markets, and Ségolène Royal’s socialist nostrums. In Britain, they will have to choose between Gordon Brown’s interventionist state and . . . policies to be determined."

British Tories, PC but still helpful

The Sunday Telegraph has a story on David Cameron's successful efforts to recruit "New Tories" -- that is candidates for safe Conservative seats that are not white middle class males. The photo looks like a shot of recent university grads.

But aside from the focus on women, minorities, youth and non-traditional backgrounds, the story has a great tidbit near the end. Mark Clark, 29, is a candidate in Tooting. His (single) mother was mostly unemployed and lived in subsidized housing; a typical Labour supporter if there ever was one. Explaining to his mother and Telegraph readers why he is running as a Conservative candidate, Clark says: "I went to a private school on an assisted place, an example of Conservatives giving people routes out of poverty. All the opportunities in my life came from Conservatism." The opportunity agenda, espoused by Newt Gingrich, is a hopeful agenda that can do more to attract non-traditional candidates and voters than can all the identity politics pandering that seems to enthral modern conservative leaders.

Saturday, April 28, 2007
Bye, bye Torre?

The New York Yankees beat the Boston Red Sox 3-1, snapping a seven-game losing streak. A win is a win but I found it notable that the three runs is less than they scored in all but one of the seven games they lost. I'm just saying ... I'm not sure what I'm saying other than a win is a win but sometimes the problems persist.

Now on to the skipper, Joe Torre. Yahoo! Sports blogger Tim Brown and the New York Post's George King both speculate that The Boss may be ready to fire Torre. It's about time although replacing the skipper will not be sufficient for the team to turn around its fortunes. I'll get back to this in a moment. But first a couple of observations about Brown's and King's pieces.

Brown says:

"Those four championships in five years, those nine consecutive AL East titles, a streak that happens to be current, and the dignity and resolve that have made him the ideal manager for the New York Yankees since 1996, they might not be enough to save Joe Torre.

It would be a shame, and it would be wrong, but as one Yankees insider observed , 'George might be itching for some carnage'."

Why would it be wrong? Yes, Joe Torre won four World Series in five years but despite managing a team that has by far the highest payroll in the sport he has not won a WS in seven years. Joe Torre was the ideal manager for the Yankees in the late 1990s but it should be obvious that he wasn't the ideal manager in the 2000s. To quote Janet Jackson, "What have you done for me lately." And I don't think that George Steinbrenner is itching for carnage as much as he's itching for a winning team.

King asks:

"Is Torre the reason the starting rotation has melted in the first month and put an alarming workload on the bullpen? Is it Torre's fault the lineup, so potent through 19 games, has gone 20 innings without an extra-base hit?"

No Joe Torre is not responsible for those things but might there not be other reasons the Yankees are losing? Or perhaps he is responsible for those things: always substituting a pinch runner for DH Jason Giambi in the 6th or 7th inning means there are fewer bench options later in the game and the inferior hitter (to Giambi) is returning to bat in the 9th or extra innings; playing 1B Doug Mientkiewicz any more than one has to (such as once every ten games or so) is a mistake, as is starting Miguel Cairo in the place of SS Derek Jeter, etc...

But I don't think that the injuries or the cold bats are the only reasons the Yankees are losing. The problems go deeper than that and these problems are the result of decisions made by general manager Brian Cashman and manager Joe Torre. Here they are:

1. 1B Doug Mientkiewicz. He should never have been signed and having been signed, should never have been played. His line of 140/232/220 gives away too many outs for an everyday player. He has played in 20 of the Yankees's 22 games and been given 50 ABs. The average AL first baseman would have had five more hits already. It doesn't seem much but given the close games and number of batters the Yanks have left stranded, it might have resulted in more wins. Blame: 70% Cashman for signing him, Torre 30% for playing him.

2. Starting rotation is hurt. At one point only one-fifth of the expected opening day rotation was actually starting. Who's at fault? Really no one. These things happen and the team had reasonable options that haven't quite worked out. But the problem became worse when Andy Petite was put in the role of relief pitcher twice; Joe Torre shouldn't have done that. Blame: Fate 95%, Torre 5%.

3. A bullpen that is giving up too many runs. Why? A bunch of reasons but two stand out: Mariano Rivera is having serious problems (as illustrated by his north of 10.00 ERA and two blown saves) and overwork. Rivera had solid outing today so perhaps he just had a bad stretch of three or four games. The workload of the bullpen in general, however, borders on abusive and the fault for that is not just the starting pitchers not doing their job but 1) Torre having a ridiculously quick hook (especially considering the bullpen usage patterns and rotation problems), 2) having Mike Myers, a typically one-batter lefty specialist, on the roster, and 3) not having any true long relief pitchers. Blame: Torre 80%, Cashman 20%.

4. A-Rod went cold. This is to be expected, but it doesn't help Alex Rodriguez that his bat went cold at the same time the team went through a seven-game losing streak. Blame: regression to the mean.

5. Wil Nieves as the backup catcher. Jorge Posada is getting old and last weekend against Boston he had to be rested in back-to-back games. Nieves is not really major-league material. In 2005 and 2006 he played in a total of nine major league games and had a line of 000/000/000. In 2007, he has played already played in seven games and has a line of 000/000/000. His minor league career has been unimpressive. As Steven Goldman wrote in the New York Sun last week: "Economizing means that instead of dining out at Per Se you go to Sizzler. You don't skip right past that to the Dumpster. Wil Nieves is not a major league player. Jorge Posada is one of the best. In the gap between those two points, the Yankees' pennant chances are suspended." There are alternatives. Blame: Cashman 100%.

6. Roster makeup and weak bench. Carrying one-batter reliever Mike Myers necessitates carrying an extra reliever. Having two 1B (Doug Mientkiewicz and Josh Phelps) and 1B/DH Jason Giambi, means having an even shorter bench. Phelps should be given the everyday 1B job. With a line of 292/393/458, whatever minimal difference there is in defensive capability will be made up at the plate. Team can't carry a fifth outfielder with the extra 1B and pitcher the team uses. Also, Miguel Cairo is a terrible bench player (2007: 000/182/000; career: 267/315/360). Blame: Cashman 100%.

The Yankees need not worry too much. Their starters are returning from the DL, A-Rod will recapture his power, Mariano Rivera should recover. But having fallen behind so early, they can't afford to give away wins. Smarter use of the bullpen and better roster construction will go a long way to making them competitive when A-Rod or Jeter or Giambi aren't winning the game for them. Looking back at Torre's World Series winning-squads in the 1990s and 2000 can provide guidance: the Yankees could beat you ten different ways. Everyone contributed when they had to: relievers could be counted on getting important outs, the bottom of the order could move runners along (and 3B Scott Brosius has some power), the bench was diverse and (slightly) more useful. Another thing about those teams was that everyone worked hard. I'm not so sure about that now. They are a team full of superstars whose birthright as the Yankees is to win the World Series and they just don't hustle the way they used to. (For hustle, watch the New York Mets or last year's Detroit Tigers or any Minnesota Twins team.) It's a team that looks like winning will come to them rather than them having to chase it. Part of that is, as I said, the product of putting together an All-Star team as nine-tenths of the starting team (and ignoring the bench and bullpen). But part of that must how the Yankees are led; they need to be motivated or coached or whatever to work hard. That's Joe Torre's job and he's not doing it. He seems to be a little too layed back himself. And for that reason, Joe Torre should go. The sooner, the better. Give Joe Girardi or Don Mattingly the job and the Yankees will fight their back to the top of the American League East. Don't and they'll come up short.

Daily Show slams green celebs

A friend sent along this. Still laughing at this: Lewis Black points to Pimp My Ride Earth Day edition which promotes biodiesels and says: "It's a shame that cars don't run on cognitive dissonance."

Thursday, April 26, 2007
Climate change pretzels

The Financial Times reported on Tuesday:

"Deaths and injuries from climate change are set to more than double in the next 25 years, according to estimates to be published soon.

The World Health Organisation is finalising data forecasting that deaths linked to even a very narrow number of causes most closely connected to shifting weather patterns will reach more than 300,000 a year by 2030.

The number of disease-adjusted life years (Dalys) lost – a measure of injury and earlier death – linked to warming will rise in the period to more than 11m."

So quick, everyone use ethanol. Or maybe not. The Financial Times reported today:

"Europe’s dash for biofuels could accelerate the destruction of tropical rainforests, the European Commission admitted on Thursday.

The EU’s executive arm said that the 27-member bloc’s decision to increase tenfold its consumption of vehicle fuel made from crops by 2020 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions would increase the pressure on virgin land, especially in Asia."

Well, at least there is also the carbon credit market. Oh, wait. The Financial Times reported yesterday:

"Companies and individuals rushing to go green have been spending millions on 'carbon credit' projects that yield few if any environmental benefits.

A Financial Times investigation has uncovered widespread failings in the new markets for greenhouse gases, suggesting some organisations are paying for emissions reductions that do not take place.

Others are meanwhile making big profits from carbon trading for very small expenditure and in some cases for clean-ups that they would have made anyway."

Is your head spinning yet? But the science is settled so we must all rush to do our part even if it doesn't help.

Three cheers for Toyota,
Or why national 'champions' are dumb

There has been a little bit hand-wringing over Toyota overtaking General Motors as the top car seller (in the latest quarter), so this Vancouver Sun editorial really hit the spot today:

"[T]he primary back-story to Toyota overtaking GM is not about problems at GM, but what Toyota and other successful automakers are doing right."

The beauty of the free market is that it may or not may benefit capitalists or labour but consumers should always win.

"The world has changed, but the nature of the automotive business has not. It's is still about making customers happy. The fundamental difference from 50 years ago when Toyota shipped its first car to the U.S. is that today customers have a lot more choices."

And for those economic nationalists, what does an American or Canadian automobile mean in the globalized world:

"This is no longer a battle between domestics and imports in the United States, since more than half of all Toyotas sold in the U.S. last year were built in American plants. Others came from the Toyota plants in Cambridge, Ont., which have an annual capacity of 300,000 vehicles."

Government banning things

Pointing to guns, pit bulls, smoking and now certain kinds of light bulbs, Gerry Nicholls wonders, "Am I wrong, or does the sole business of government these days consist of banning things." No Gerry government doesn't just ban things, they also tax them -- but only that which they haven't banned. No government is that dumb.

Prince Charles

The New York Times has a friendly piece on Prince Charles, "Farmer, Cookie Maker, Ecologist and, Yes, the Future King." I guess there wasn't room for "and wannabe tampon."

Big earthy mountains out of polling molehills

Can't the Conservatives ignore environmental voters. The Toronto Star reported earlier this week:

"The Tories are being advised to target their overhauled green plan at family decision-makers and committed environmentalists in the 'Suzuki nation.'

A government report obtained by the Toronto Star identified three groups of Canadians said to be susceptible to changing their actions to improve the environment:

* The 'Suzuki Nation,' making up one-fifth of the population, finds the negative state of the environment in conflict with their values, expresses high environmental concern and is motivated to take action. These are people who would be compelled to act even without offers of tax cuts and other economic incentives designed to change individual behaviour.

* 'Invested Materialists' are the 28 per cent of people who do not find the current environmental state in conflict with their values and have low levels of concern. But these people will 'act if given the right reason' such as an economic incentive or enhanced social prestige.

* The last category is 'Ambivalent Materialists' – the 15 per cent of Canadians who feel that a polluted environment is in conflict with their values, but are not concerned about current pollution levels. Under the right circumstances, such as a greater understanding about environmental risks and pollution levels, they, too, would act."

Let's see: three groups, accounting for 63% of the vote, who are "susceptible to changing to their vote to improve the environment." That means, right of the top, that for more than one-third of voters, the environment does not register as an issue at all or they are so green, they are ideologically blinded and won't switch camps. "Suzuki nation" will likely never vote Tory. They are Green voters, NDP voters, even Stephane Dion voters. They might bounce among those three parties, but very, very few will ever mark their ballot for the Conservatives because the other parties will always out-green the Tories. So let us just take the latter two variations of materialists that make up 43% of people who might, under the right conditions, change their vote to lend a hand to Mother Nature. Considering the popularity of green politics, that's not that big a portion of the voting pie. About one-third of that 43% don't really care enough about the environment ("are not concerned about current pollution levels") to do anything about it. They might be "susceptible" to more green voting with tonnes more environmental scare-mongering, but rate now, they are content. That leaves the 28% of all voters who think the environment is an issue but don't want to do anything about it that will cost them money. Great. The Tories can attract their votes cheap gestures that appear to protect the environment as opposed to those costly gestures that appear to fulfill Kyoto that other parties are peddling. In short: don't worry too much about green politics if you are Conservative.

And, lastly, "Suzuki Nation"? "Invested Materialists?" I can't believe that Michael Adams didn't do this research; rather it is some outfit called Phoenix Strategies.

A-Rod's torrid pace

Alex Rodriguez has hit 14 homers in 18 games, tying the April record for homers and on the cusp (1 RBI) of the month's record for runs batted in. A-Rod also just ended his 23-game hitting streak. Tyler Kepner has a great piece in the New York Times on how new hitting coach Kevin Long had the third baseman adjust his swing. (HT: Jay Jaffe at Baseball Prospectus's blog, although Jaffe also puts Rodriguez's accomplishment in perspective: the season starts earlier so he plays more April games.) Be sure to click on the "multimedia" graphic "Dissecting A-Rod's Swing," at the left of the Kepner article. All of it is excellent sports journalism. For those who don't have time to read the whole article, here's how Long improved A-Rod's swing:

"When Long met with Rodriguez, they talked hitting philosophy. Rodriguez said he liked to take a pitch to measure the pitcher’s stuff. But he usually bats behind Bobby Abreu, who sees more pitches on average than any hitter in the majors.

'What are you doing on deck?' Long said he told Rodriguez. 'You’re the fourth hitter of the game, shouldn’t you have an understanding? I’m just asking. What do you think?'

The message was to stay aggressive, to look for fastballs on every pitch, even when it seems obvious a pitcher will throw a breaking ball. That is a rule for many hitters, but now, Rodriguez is applying it...

Long believed Rodriguez could be more consistent with a lower leg kick and a faster rotation of his hips.

The result would be a more compact swing. Rodriguez made this easier on himself by losing 12 pounds. A leaner hitter is more flexible. 'That’s a huge factor,' Long said.

In spring training, Long and Reggie Jackson, the Hall of Famer who is a special instructor for the Yankees, told Rodriguez, who bats right-handed, to treat his first at-bats as an experiment."

America on the road to fascism?

That is the argument that Naomi Wolf, erstwhile advisor to Al Gore, makes in The Guardian. The teaser at the beginning says:

"From Hitler to Pinochet and beyond, history shows there are certain steps that any would-be dictator must take to destroy constitutional freedoms. And, argues Naomi Wolf, George Bush and his administration seem to be taking them all."

Kinda predictable, huh? Is it worth reading on? And if you do, will you laugh or do you cry? (Horace Walpole: "The world is a tragedy to those who feel and a comedy to those who think.") Anyway, Wolf begins by looking at the military coup in Thailand last Fall, finding that:

"The leaders of the coup took a number of steps, rather systematically, as if they had a shopping list. In a sense, they did. Within a matter of days, democracy had been closed down: the coup leaders declared martial law, sent armed soldiers into residential areas, took over radio and TV stations, issued restrictions on the press, tightened some limits on travel, and took certain activists into custody ... essentially a blueprint for turning an open society into a dictatorship ... As difficult as this is to contemplate, it is clear, if you are willing to look, that each of these 10 steps has already been initiated today in the United States by the Bush administration."

Now, you have to look real hard and you have to view it in a way similar to Naomi Wolf. That means not believing the jihadists are a threat. It means believing that there is no difference between the Soviet Gulag and Guantánamo. Outsourced security "at home and abroad" is no different than the brownshirts in Nazi Germany. Seeing wire-tapping is a Stasi tactic. Excessive worrying about criminalizing opposition. Comparing the Reich Law for the Re-establishment of a Professional Civil Service to "Bush supporters in state legislatures in several states put[ting] pressure on regents at state universities to penalise or fire academics who have been critical of the administration." And on and on.

I think that there are legitimate criticisms of the some of the zeal of security officials. There has been security measures improperly applied to a number of people. I think that unnecessary security measures could imperil some civil rights. The system is imperfect. But to equate these problems with the road to fascism indicates is juvenile.

In Contentions, Commentary's blog, Gabriel Schoenfeld says:

"[S]hould Americans accept such insults with equanimity? What choice do we have, except to point out that Naomi Wolf’s case demonstrates once again that the pursuit of writerly fame is a tough business and often requires one to say the most outlandish things? Even so, it would be difficult to imagine anything more reprehensible than Wolf’s latest foray. Her journey from The Beauty Myth to Promiscuities to The Porn Myth to Fascist America, in 10 Easy Steps has been a long way down, and it did not exactly begin in a high place."

And shame on The Guardian for thinking this publishable.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007
The movement is different than the party

Adam Daifallah notes that the Harperites might not be pleased with a recent Western Standard cover story that says the Harper Conservatives are de-conservatizing themselves. Or put another way, the party is more Tory than Reform. In brief the Western Standard case against the Tories is this: big budget, recognizing Quebec as a nation, Kyoto-lite. Daifallah says: "While it won't make those around Harper happy, this is the kind of journalism that the Standard, as an organ of the Canadian conservative movement, ought to be doing." Exactly. The problem for conservatives in Canada is that for too long there was not really much of a conservative movement, only a conservative party (or, one might argue, parties). There is something of an growing conservative infrastructure and the Western Standard is (arguably) the largest conservative journalistic vehicle in the country. (As an aside, a prominent conservative once asked me about whether I "felt the weight of the [forgotten adjective] responsibility of editing one of the only two or three conservative publications (The Interim) in Canada." I had never thought of it before I was asked. I have taken that responsiblity to heart since then.)

The movement is distinct from the party and it should be. Doing so has many advantages, and for both sides. The movement should be pure (but realistic), while the party necessarily makes some compromises. The movement, however, should call the party on those compromises. By doing so, the movement's purity gives cover to the party when it is necessary to move rightward, albeit not all the way. By doing so, a distinct movement helps keep the party purer than it might otherwise be. Remember how movement conservatives essentially vetoed Republican President George W. Bush's last Supreme Court nominee, the unqualified Harriet Miers? Doing so was good for the movement and, in the long-run, the president and the country. The Harperites would do well to remember that they lead a party and govern a country; the role of the various elements of the conservative movement is to continuously advance conservatism. If that lines up with the needs of the party, all the better; but the needs of the party are secondary for the movement.

So repeat to yourself, Harperites, "The movement is different than the party. The movement is different than the party."

Monday, April 23, 2007
Happy birthday Shakespeare?

I've read a few places today that mentioned that it is William Shakespeare's birthday (1564). Maybe the actor William Shakspere -- who also died on this day in 1616, the only close to poetic thing that the man from Stratford-upon-Avon had ever done -- but the birthday of the author of Macbeth and King Lear and Hamlet is, in fact, April 12.

Would an abortion doctor by any other name smell any sweeter?

Stuart Buck examines the question of whether the phrase 'abortion doctor' is a pejorative term, as Justice Ginsberg claims it is in her dissent this week.

Sunday, April 22, 2007
Some sobering thinking on the partial-birth abortion decision

Two things worth reading at First Things: Fr. Richard John Neuhaus and Michael Uhlmann. Uhlmann says:

"Kennedy’s opinion is a step in the right direction, albeit a modest one. The decision, along with last year’s ruling in Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood (rejecting a facial challenge to New Hampshire’s parental notification statute) will increase the burden on those who wish to strike down even modest restrictions on abortion. The majority (at least for the time being) is not going to roll over every time the spirit of Roe or Casey is invoked as a reason to strike down abortion regulations. Plaintiffs, who have had rather an easy time of it over the years when launching facial challenges, will have to work harder to overturn statutes they don’t like. As a practical matter, that is all one can say for sure about yesterday’s ruling.

Proponents of abortion will, of course, scream to the heavens that Roe has been effectively eviscerated. Don’t believe it for a minute. It is very much alive and well, as is Casey. The Court, and the Court alone, remains the final judge of what may or may not constitute an undue burden. All the Court decided yesterday was (a) that there might be a valid legislative role in a very narrow category of late-term abortions; and (b) what constitutes an undue burden will have to await the specific application of the Act’s provisions to particular facts."

And Fr. Neuhaus:

"Justice Kennedy’s 5-4 majority opinion is notable for accenting the society’s legitimate, indeed imperative, interest in protecting innocent human life. That interest had received lip service in Roe and its judicial offspring, but this time it is an operative, albeit not a controlling, concern. President Bush hailed Carhart as bringing us closer to the goal of “a society in which every child is welcomed in life and protected in law.” A very little bit closer to a goal still painfully far away."

... but:

"It seems to me that there is another question that should be pretty much settled now. Back in the 1990s, there was considerable argument among pro-life leaders about the wisdom of focusing on partial-birth abortion. It was a strategic decision. Pro-lifers opposed to it contended that partial-birth abortions accounted for only a few thousand abortions per year, and getting rid of that procedure would do nothing to protect the million and more other children killed by abortion each year. This was another instance of the familiar disagreement over the advocacy of incremental changes or frontal challenges to the abortion regime of Roe. Obviously, one would prefer a frontal challenge that would result in the overturning of that infamous 1973 decision. But it will not work, at least not now. Quite apart from specific decisions of the Court, the focus on partial-birth abortion has been a great success in educating the public to the reality of unborn life and the horror of abortion. In the dissent, Justice Ginsburg objects that the moral repugnance triggered by partial-birth abortion is true of all abortions. Precisely."

There is another thing at First Things worth reading: Joseph Bottum. Among the points he makes is this warning:

"A “chill wind is blowing from Rome,” announced one leftist site in a blog post titled “Catholics—5; The Rest of Us—Nothing.” The five Catholic justices on the Supreme Court formed—for the first time since Alito joined the Court—the complete majority on a decision. I think that we’re probably going to have to wait for the new fund-raising letters from NARAL and Planned Parenthood before we see the highest pitch of anti-Catholic rhetoric coming out of the Carhart decision."

Not that pro-abortion anti-Catholicism will be anything new.

Harper's successors

The idea, pushed this weekend in the Toronto Star, that Stephen Harper must win a majority to retain the Conservative Party leadership is pure bunk. Successive minorities would still be an incredible accomplishment considering where the Conservative Party stood a mere 36 months ago. Expectations have been raised in the media but I'm sure that many within the party are much more realistic than are the political reporters who cover them. If anyone is guilty within the Conservative Party of believing all talk about a majority it is those close to Harper within the PMO and several close cabinet colleagues. I doubt that they are going to be the ones ready to stick a knife in their boss' back. There are models -- Conservative models -- for successful minority governance, so there is little need for a majority. Harper's job should be safe. But let's consider the Toronto Star's speculative list of possible Harper successors.

1. In a government where Harper allows possible competitors very little room to grow, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty is one of the few Conservative ministers to emerge as a formidable national figure in his own right. If Harper's personality is an issue -- according to Les Whittington and Richard Brennan of the Star, Harper supposedly doesn't 'connect' with Canadians -- the 57-year-old former Ontario minister is hardly the answer. Flaherty doesn't quite exude cuddliness, which the Star admits when they call him 'hard-nosed.' At one time Flaherty might have bridged the socon/fiscal con divide, but his two budgets that have brought federal program spending to $200 billion doesn't exactly buttress his fiscal conservative credentials. The recent family-friendly budget brought Flaherty closer to socons but otherwise did nothing to help him with the conservative base of the party.

2. Indian Affairs Minister Jim Prentice, 50. Way too liberal for the Conservative Party. One of a handful of Tories to vote against re-opening the same-sex 'marriage' debate, he'll go nowhere with the Indian affairs portfolio. He might be the person the Toronto Star would most like to see lead the Tories which is reason enough to believe he won't get that chance.

3. Industry Minister Maxime Bernier, 44. His English is poor and his connections to the Montreal Economic Institute might taint him a tad too libertarian to get elected, but by every account from people who've met him, he's impressive: personable, attractive, intelligent. And he really believes in making government smaller. He'd be my choice. And if I were prime minister, I'd make him my finance minister. He might be leader one day but not any time soon.

4. "Environment Minister John Baird, 37, is also a much-relied-on minister in the Harper fold, but it's unclear if he would want to be put under the spotlight of a leadership bid." Two words come to mind, two words that the Star reporter dare not print but are definitely thinking: sexual orientation.

5. MP Jason Kenney, 39, the Prime Minister's parliamentary secretary, is seen as a possible candidate for leader down the road, but he is likely to keep his ambitions well hidden as long as Harper is in charge. He's quite ambitious. Nothing wrong with that but there is plenty in being seen as such. He will definitely be the socon candidate and he's making connections to ethnic communities to not only bolster the Tories in upcoming elections but his own candidacy when he finally runs. But he can't be seen to be pushing Harper out the door and be his replacement.

6. Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay, 41, who won the leadership of the Progressive Conservatives in 2003, is always on the leadership radar but his performance in his portfolio has done little to polish his image. There are so many problems with MacKay where does one start: he is an intellectual lightweight, he has been unimpressive in cabinet, he's difficult to get along with, some old Tories may not trust him after merging the PCs with the CA after promising not to, he ticks off socons, he called his ex-girlfriend a bitch, etc... Looking back, one wonders how he ever won the Progressive Conservative leadership in 2003. Reading Paul Wells book one gets the impression that Harper viewed MacKay as a useful idiot in bringing the parties together. Now that they are one again, the idiot is not longer useful.

There are no doubt others. Might Mike Harris, Ralph Klein or Bernard Lord be coaxed out of political retirement? Tony Clement is ridiculously ambitious. Maybe Danny Williams would like to take his whine-show to Ottawa. Where are the women candidates? The Liberals bribed Martha Hall Findlay into staying in the leadership race 'til the final ballot with a promise of a safe Toronto seat in the next federal election so perhaps the Tories could promise the same to some Conservative woman somewhere if either Rona Ambrose or Helena Guergis doesn't throw a hat into the ring. There will always be candidates no one considered until the race is underway. Stock Day perhaps. Maybe Ted Morton gets tired of Alberta's big government conservatism. Belinda could always return to politics. Silly suggestion? You bet, but no more than the speculation of replacing Harper at this stage. By the time Harper leaves the political arena, my guess is that one or two of the cabinet ministers the Star lists, despite their young age, might have already moved on themselves. This story is not really reporting. It might be wishful thinking, it might be trouble-making, it could even be indicative of a lack of other stories to file from Ottawa. Nothing to take seriously, no matter how fun playing make believe might be.

This would be funny if it were fiction

But alas satire is no longer possible. From the Associated Press (HT: Small Dead Animals):

"American commanders cite al-Qaida's severe brand of Islam, which is so extreme that in Baqouba, al-Qaida has warned street vendors not to place tomatoes beside cucumbers because the vegetables are different genders, Col. David Sutherland said."

For more than one reason, then, Veggie Tales must be scandalous to a particular strain of the Muslim mind.

Candidate Gore

For more than a year I've been saying that former vice president Al Gore was probably the only candidate capable of stopping Hillary Clinton's nomination as Democratic presidential candidate in 2008 and that he would be a formidable candidate for president once he captured the Democratic nod. This violated my view that in the television age and era of 24-hour news, you don't get a second chance at high-level politics. Many people emailed to say I was nuts. Most said Gore could never run for precisely the reason that one does not get a second chance to make first impression. But that was before An Inconvenient Truth, an Oscar and a likely Nobel Peace Prize. Today the Sunday Telegraph reports that a Gore campaign team is quietly assembling. That's not quite correct once you get past the headline:

"... former strategists are sounding out a shadow team that could run his campaign at short notice. In approaching former campaign staff, including political strategists and communications officials, they are making clear they are not acting on formal instructions from Mr Gore, 59, but have not been asked to stop."

Numerous Clinton-Gore and Kerry-Edwards campaign staffers have yet to commit to other candidates fueling speculation that they are waiting for Gore to announce his candidacy, or at least deny he's running is something less ambiguous than he has "no plans" to run.

Saturday, April 21, 2007
Manny Ramirez

The combination of great writing and baseball -- a worthy topic for great writing -- is irresistible. Ben McGrath has a longish profile in the New Yorker on Manny Ramirez that is worth reading even if you are nothing more than a casual baseball fan:

"Manny Ramirez is a deeply frustrating employee, the kind whose talents are so prodigious that he gets away with skipping meetings, falling asleep on the job, and fraternizing with the competition. He makes more money than everyone else at the company yet somehow escapes the usual class resentment, and even commands more respect from the wage slaves, who suspect he is secretly one of them, than from his colleagues in business class. It’s not that he is anti-establishment, exactly, but in his carefree way he’s just subversive enough — 'affably apathetic' is how one of his bosses put it recently — to create headaches for any manager who worries about precedent. Despite his generous compensation, he is sufficiently ungrateful to let it be known that he would be happier working elsewhere. He is also, for a man of stature, strangely sensitive, and although his brilliance is accompanied by sloppiness, one criticizes him, as with a wayward teen-ager, at the risk of losing him to bouts of brooding and inaccessibility...

He is perhaps the closest thing in contemporary professional sports to a folk hero, an unpredictable public figure about whom relatively little is actually known but whose exploits, on and off the field, are recounted endlessly, with each addition punctuated by a shrug and the observation that it’s just 'Manny being Manny'."

So he is a $22 million ingrate who habitually asks to be traded and who remains, year in and year out, the most important part of the BoSox lineup. He career stats: 313 batting average, 410 on-base percentage with 439 homers. He is a prodigious talent.

Here is my favourite bit of journalism in a long time:

"When I asked his teammate David Ortiz, himself a borderline folk hero, how he would describe Ramirez, he replied, 'As a crazy motherfucker.' Then he pointed at my notebook and said, 'You can write it down just like that: ‘David Ortiz says Manny is a crazy motherfucker'."

There are fascinating details like the fact that Ramirez doesn't keep track of the count (which is why he seems to wait for the umpire to tell him to take a base on a fourth ball -- he is waiting); all he wants to know is when he has strikes. There's a great quote that Ramirez wants to go to China which he describes as a city he saw on the Discovery Channel. There's a possible explanation about why Ramirez's pants are so baggy (when he got started in Cleveland he had to borrow a team-mate's uniform pants). It's typical New Yorker fare: the hidden gem of anecdotes and quotes to paint a mostly complete picture. In the case of Paul Wolfowitz a few weeks it is ideology that prevents the full picture being given; in the case of Ramirez, it is a matter of Manny being Manny.

I don't like Manny Ramirez probably for more reasons than that he wears a Boston Red Sox uniform but I do admire two things about him: his offensive skills (he is embarrassing in the outfield) and the way he plays (with everything he's got while enjoying playing the game). McGrath quotes a high school baseball coach of Ramirez's: "It's just that he didn't really care about anything other than playing. Even team pictures - it wasn't important to him. You had to drag him by the hair. But if you said we had a game at three o'clock he'd, like, want to sit out there at seven o'clock in the morning, waiting."

Manny Ramirez makes baseball fun -- or more even fun than usual. McGrath captures it as much as that can be on paper.

Is this really any business of the media?

Alan Allnut, publisher of the Montreal Gazette, begins his column thusly:

"The Gazette is a complex business. Every day, we conduct several distinct types of operations. We own and operate a manufacturing plant, where we're in the printing business. We rent space in the Dominion Square building, where we're in the business of gathering news, selling advertising and subscriptions, putting content online and doing all the office functions to support the others. We have our paper product delivered through contracts with independent distributors.

And we're in the business of challenging people. We regularly challenge governments, companies, institutions and individuals to do better in whatever aspect of society they're involved in.

Lately, the challenge to do better has had more and more to do with the environment and sustainable development. It's among the top items on everyone's list of concerns."

What happened just reporting the story? Why is it the job of the media to 'challenge' people to do better? I imagine that I'm in the minority on this, that most people would say that journalists should make the world a better place and all that. And I agree with a degree of separation caveat: the world is made a better place when informed citizens act on what they know (see two posts below.) The job of newspapers is to make sure that individuals have information, not to push them into a particular course of action with that information.

Is this even a political issue?

The Ottawa Citizen reports this morning that, "The federal Liberals want the Conservative government to push for a lineup change to Team Canada at the upcoming world hockey championship because of ethnic slurs that were allegedly made by a player toward a francophone referee more than a year ago." I'm not sure if Shane Doan using a ethnic slur is reason enough to cut him from the national team. I am sure that it is none fo the business of the federal government. Marcel Proulx, deputy whip of the Liberal Party, admits that the Tories can't dictate who is on the team but that they can press Hockey Canada about the issue: "I'm saying that the government of Canada finances partly Hockey Canada, so if they agree that there shouldn't be racism in sports they should question Hockey Canada on how they can include him in their team."

An argument against electoral reform

The only election reform that matters is changing voter/politician behavior. That's the point of John Robson's Ottawa Citizen column yesterday which concludes:

"There's nothing wrong with the way we elect politicians. What's wrong is
whom we elect and why, and how little thought they, or we, give to basic
issues in political economy."

Friday, April 20, 2007
Just amazing

I predicted that Alex Rodriguez would have an MVP-type year. Tonight against the Boston Red Sox, in the midst of the 15th game of the season, A-Rod has two homeruns bringing his major league-leading total to 12 and four RBIs, bringing his major-league leading total to 30. That's two RBIs every game. He also leads MLB in runs scored, slugging percentage and OPS, and is in the top five in batting average. Already twice this season, the Yankees have twice won the game with an A-Rod walk-off homer; that means that in one-quarter of the Yankees's wins are off must-hit homers from Rodriguez. No A-Rod, no win. In other games, his offense has been the difference between winning and losing. That's the definition of an MVP. He'll slow down, but those are amazing numbers.

A little noticed bit from the SCOTUS partial-birth abortion decision

Cass Sunstein noted in the Los Angeles Times that:

"In the long run, the most important part of the Supreme Court's ruling on "partial-birth" abortions may not be Justice Anthony M. Kennedy's opinion for the majority. It might well be Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's dissent, which attempts, for the first time in the court's history, to justify the right to abortion squarely in terms of women's equality rather than privacy."

While some commentators have noted Justice Anthony Kennedy's majority decision, in particular the fact he was, in the words of G. Tracy Mehan III in The American Spectator, "scrupulous in setting out the complete record documenting the existential realities of partial birth abortion," Sunstein recognizes the new jurisprudential arguments Ginsburg has made:

"In 1985, Ginsburg, then a federal appeals court judge, argued in a law review article that the court should have emphasized 'a woman's autonomous charge of her full life's course.' Citing decisions on sex equality, she contended that Roe vs. Wade was "weakened … by the opinion's concentration on a medically approved autonomy idea, to the exclusion of a constitutionally based sex-equality perspective."

In this week's case, Ginsburg, now the only woman on the court, attempted to re-conceive the foundations of the abortion right, basing it on well-established constitutional principles of equality. Borrowing from her 1985 argument, she said that legal challenges to restrictions on abortion procedures 'do not seek to vindicate some generalized notion of privacy; rather, they center on a woman's autonomy to determine her life's course, and thus to enjoy equal citizenship stature'."

Sunstein is probably correct in find that this might make the legal arguments of pro-abortionists a little stronger in the future.

Debating universal healthcare

Over at The New Republic this week Jonathan Cohn and David Gratzer debate universal healthcare -- Part I (DG), Part II (JC), Part III (DG), Part IV(JC) -- and it is well worth reading. A couple noteworthy points from Dr. Gratzer.

From the first instalment:

"Yet after getting into medical school and training in Canada's hospitals and clinics, I discovered how chaotic the system was. And I realized how cruel it could be. Far from the nirvana of your essay, I found people struggling to get basic health care--since practically every surgical and diagnostic test required some type of waiting. The stories I encountered were moving: a man waiting two years for a referral to a pain clinic; a woman with sleep apnea forced to wait three years for a sleep study; a professor--barely able to walk because of a spinal condition--told to wait six months for an MRI. The professor, by the way, was my father. Government statistics detail other shortages: Some 1.4 million Canadians in Ontario alone who are actively looking can't find a family doctor.

I concluded that government health care inevitably resulted in some type of rationing. With the "high tech, high expense" medical revolution changing health care across the West, governments decided to control costs by employing wage and price controls. Waiting and shortages were the inevitable result."

Gratzer then relentlessly uses statistics to counter arguments that America's healthcare system is inferior to those in Canada and Europe. He might be cherry-picking his stats but no more than proponents of universal state-run systems or critics of America's (imperfect) system. In some cases he offers alternatives theories for why American lifespans, for example might be less; average life expectancy measures more than healthcare coverage. Gratzer concludes with a warning against ideology in the healthcare debate: "My central point: Don't measure a country's health care system by how well it promotes socialist goals or social engineering; judge a system by how well it serves people when they're ill."

In the conclusion of Gratzer's second instalment, he reiterates the point of his book, The Cure: How Capitalism Can Save American Health Care: the American healthcare system suffers from a deficiency of American-ness -- at least that which is applicable to the non-healthcare part of the US economy:

"Rather than looking at the failed experiments in other countries (government meddling) or revising a dismissed idea (managed care), I champion a third way: In five-sixths of the economy, Americans value choice and competition. That's the key to reforming American health care.

In my book, I talk about ways to insure more uninsured, to increase quality and trim costs. A summary of my core ideas: Make health insurance more like other types of insurance, foster competition, reform Medicaid using welfare reform as a model, revisit Medicare, and address prescription drug costs by addressing the FDA's size and scope.

So, no, I don't look to France for inspiration; I look to the United States."

Thursday, April 19, 2007
China #1

The Financial Times reports that China is about to over-take the United States as the world's top carbon dioxide emitter:

"A senior staff scientist at the U.S. Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center (CDIAC) last month estimated it was very likely that China would overtake the United States this year, estimating China’s CO2 emissions in 2005 at 5.3 billion tonnes versus the United States’ 5.9 billion, but with China growing much faster."

In light of these numbers, what Europe is going to do (and Canada might do) is quite useless, as International Energy Agency chief economist Fatih Birol admits: "What we do in Europe may be with good intentions, may be very ethical... but if you put it in terms of numbers its meaning is very limited." But at least they'll feel better and sanctimonious.

An argument against PR that is in fact an argument for PR

I have never supported a move to proportional representation, but I find Adam Daifallah's argument against it almost reason enough to endorse a change in how we elect our representatives:

"PR would end the (basically) two party system, create endless minority and coalition government situations, destabilize the legislature, create gridlock and force more frequent elections. And whatever legislation does managed to get passed will almost always be watered down."

Considering how corrupt politics is and the never-ending expansion of government, isn't destabilization of the legislature and gridlock good things? George F. Will has long noted that gridlock was probably part of the founding fathers's plans in constructing the system of government the US has to obstruct needless law-making. The first-past-the-post parliamentary system does not usually have this brake on bad public policy initiatives. I'm not saying this is sufficient reason to support PR over the current system, but conservatives shouldn't dress up virtues (fewer laws and regulations) as problems.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007
Everything downhill since 1968

The headline is hyperbole; I don't entirely blame the 1960s for our cultural and moral mess. (There is also the Enlightenment and The Fall of Man.) But there is much truth in these words from a March 18, 1993 Wall Street Journal editorial:

As the saying goes, there was a time. And indeed there really was a time in the United States when life seemed more settled, when emotions, both private and public, didn't seem to run so continuously at breakneck speed, splattering one ungodly tragedy after another across the evening news. How did this happen to the United States? How, in T.S. Eliot's phrase, did so many become undone?

We think it is possible to identify the date when the U.S., or more precisely when many people within it, began to tip off the emotional tracks. A lot of people won't like this date, because it makes their political culture culpable for what has happened. The date is August 1968, when the Democratic National Convention found itself sharing Chicago with the street fighters of the anti-Vietnam War movement.

The real blame here does not lie with the mobs who fought bloody battles with the hysterical Chicago police. The larger responsibility falls on the intellectuals--university professors, politicians and journalistic commentators--who said then that the acts committed by the protesters were justified or explainable. That was the beginning. After Chicago, the justifications never really stopped. America had a new culture, for political action and personal living.

With great rhetorical firepower, books, magazines, opinion columns and editorials defended each succeeding act of defiance--against the war, against university presidents, against corporate practices, against behavior codes, against dress codes, against virtually all agents of established authority."

Tuesday, April 17, 2007
The punditocracy and Virginia Tech

Not much too say. Prayers are with the victims. It's too bad that Cho Seung-hui isn't going to be executed. The talking (air) heads in the media, both Left and Right, have a lot to say about a tragedy that has few political (that is public policy) implications. The bodies were barely cold when each "expert" speculated about the reasons, invariably reflecting their own pet issues (guns, not enough guns, Muslims, therapeutic drugs, English majors, etc...) even though there was inadequate information at the time to make such judgements. The expression "lots of eat, little light" comes to mind.

Sadly these shootings are not preventable -- see Fox News: "Security Experts: University Shootings Like Virginia Tech Massacre Aren't Totally Preventable." The good news is that they don't happen very often and are almost always the act of a lone evil-doer. So the only analysis of the news is that man is indeed capable of real evil.

Monday, April 16, 2007
The law of unintended consequences II

I had a thought while reading this Vancouver Sun editorial ("On the environmental issue, Greens play to the same audience that applauds Dion's emphasis on environmental issues. In ridings where there is no non-compete clause, vote-splitting between the Green and Liberal candidates might serve to elect a few more Conservatives.") Doesn't the Dion-May deal give license to voters with concerns about the environment to vote Green rather than Liberal in the next election?

Our ever-increasingly political chief justice

The Montreal Gazette editorializes:

"Supreme Court of Canada Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin sailed close to the wind last week in her vigorous defence of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Speaking at a conference marking the 25th anniversary of the Charter, our top judge reportedly scoffed at the widely held view that courts treat criminals too lightly. She also said schools should be required to teach the Charter, and that failing to do this could undermine democracy.

Those are incendiary assertions from the highest judge of the highest court at a time when one national political party persistently calls itself "the party of the Charter" and another is trying to crack down on crime."

The law of unintended consequences

Good for the environment, bad for municipalities: the bottle return deposit will cost cities an unknowable amount of revenue due to fewer recycled glass sales.

AI and fatherlessness

Kay S. Hymowitz writes in the Los Angeles Times about how artificial insemination is contributing to the problem of fatherlessness by delinking marriage, reproduction and child-rearing:

"You'd think that we have enough problems keeping fathers around in this country, what with out-of-wedlock births and divorce. But these days, American fatherhood has yet another hostile force to contend with: artificial insemination, or AI.

While the number of kids born as a result of the procedure (about 1 million so far in the United States) is still quite small, AI is having a disproportionate cultural and legal effect and is advancing a cause once celebrated only in the most obscure radical journals: the dad-free family."

The numbers prove the point:

"The California Cryobank, the country's largest sperm bank, estimates that about 40% of its customers are unmarried women. The Sperm Bank of California says that two-thirds of its clientele are lesbian couples."

Hymowitz discusses what is known in legalese as "intentionality" which is replacing biology as the basis of parentage. But this leads to such legal inconsistencies and absurdities as sperm donors fathering dozens of children and bearing no responsibility for them while the drunken male who has a one night stand and fathering a child being on the hook for child support until his child is university.

Fundamentally, the problem is that the technology permits the continuation of flawed (and dangerous) thinking:

"There are multiple ironies in this unfolding revolution, not least that the technology that allows women to have a family without men reinforces the worst that women fear in men. Think of all the complaints you hear: Men can't commit, they're irresponsible, they don't take care of the kids. By going to a sperm bank, women are unwittingly paying men to be exactly what they object to. But why expect anything different? The very premise of AI is that, apart from their liquid DNA, we can will men out of children's lives."

More on Pat Buckley

The New York Times obituary for Patricia Buckley is available but you'll get a better sense of the person -- the perfect wife and hostess -- by reading Peter Robinson's remembrance.

More Jackie Robinson

For me, every George F. Will column is a must-read column because every column have several note-worthy tidbits as well as a deeper philosophical point or larger context than most analysis. On Sunday, he wrote about Jackie Robinson and has these tidbits:

* Red Barber did Brooklyn Dodger radio broadcasts and considered resigning in protest of having a black player on the team. He had second thoughts, in part because he could present Robinson in a way that he could not be presented on TV: colourless.

* The low-cost housing of Levittown contributed to the exodus of Dodger fans from the neighbourhood and eventually the Dodgers, too.

* Will says: "Jack Roosevelt Robinson's middle name was homage to the president who said "speak softly and carry a big stick." Robinson's deeds spoke loudly. His stick weighed 34 ounces, which was enough."

And the deeper meaning of it all, Will quotes from Jonathan Eig's Opening Day: The Story of Jackie Robinson's First Season: "Robinson showed black Americans what was possible. He showed white Americans what was inevitable." But it is notable that Will ended with the point about Robinson's 34-ounce bat, a bat that in ten seasons produced a 311/409/474 line with 137 HRs, 273 doubles, 54 triples, and 197 SBs. That is, his bat did a lot of the talking for him. Recall, too, that Robinson didn't play baseball until his mid-20s and didn't play in the Majors until the age of 28 -- the year many players reach their peak. What might his numbers been like if he played five years earlier or played 'ball as a teen? And still, he received MVP votes in eight of the 10 seasons he played and won the award in 1949, two years after winning the Rookie of the Year award.

And while I do warn against forgetting that Robinson was a ballplayer and not just a black ballplayer, he was also a courageous, even heroic figure. I don't often quote Jesse Jackson favourably, but I have always been moved by his eulogy of Jackie Robinson, especially these words:

"Jackie as a figure in history was a rock in the water, creating concentric circles and ripples of new possibility. He was medicine. He was immunized by God from catching the diseases that he fought. The Lord's arms of protection enabled him to go through dangers seen and unseen, and he had the capacity to wear glory with grace."

And lastly, there's always the song (a great song, too) about Robinson the ballplayer, "Did You See Jackie Robinson Hit That Ball?" by Woodrow Buddy Johnson & Count Basie (1949):

Did You See Jackie Robinson Hit That Ball?
Did you see Jackie Robinson hit that ball?
It went zoomin cross the left field wall.
Yeah boy, yes, yes. Jackie hit that ball.

And when he swung his bat,
the crowd went wild,
because he knocked that ball a solid mile.
Yeah boy, yes, yes. Jackie hit that ball.

Satchel Paige is mellow,
so is Campanella,
Newcombe and Doby, too.
But it's a natural fact,
when Jackie comes to bat,
the other team is through.

Did you see Jackie Robinson hit that ball?
Did he hit it? Yeah, and that ain't all.
He stole home.
Yes, yes, Jackie's real gone.

Did you see Jackie Robinson hit that ball?
Did he hit it? Yeah, and that ain't all.
He stole home.
Yes, yes, Jackie's real gone.
Jackie's is a real gone guy.

Sunday, April 15, 2007
Telus & porn

Read Rick McGinnis's Metro column on Vision TV's report on the recent flap over Telus and cell phone pornography, especially the conclusion. Heck, here it is:

"Things get spicier when the Vision story features a former employee showing a video of an Idol-style talent show that happened during a Telus corporate retreat, and which featured judges and contestants making gratuitous sexual comments about each other. The show uses this an example of how the corporate culture of Telus has become degraded, though it's a bit of a stretch to connect this to the porn download issue, since this sort of verbal grab-ass happens at companies with no connection to porn, at conventions, retreats and Christmas parties, and usually in the presence of liquor. In a society where shame is considered unhealthy, it takes work to point out inappropriate behaviour, but taking a stand is unlikely to work when it begins by pretending to be shocked."

There is another point similar to McGinnis's point that condemning Telus for offering porn services while ignoring the fact that cell phones with browsers on them can access pornography just as easily, but larger in scope: every cell phone company is involved in peddling this garbage (as one concerned customer informed me), so why single out Telus? There were practical reasons for the the archdiocese of Vancouver in doing so; they had their cell phone service with Telus and didn't want to marginalize their threat as a customer to move elsewhere. But socons in general need to realize that most telecommunications firms are up to their neck in pornography.

Best. Car. Chase. Ever.

Steve McQueen in Bullitt. (HT: San Francisco Chronicle)

Or is it the mall chase in The Blues Brothers.

Patricia Buckley, RIP

Pat Buckley, wife of William F. Buckley, has passed away.

60 years ago today

Jackie Robinson became the first black to play in Major League Baseball. It was an important moment for baseball. The colour barrier was broken and the game changed. Black players added an aggressiveness to the game both at the plate and on the basepaths, resulting in more power (homeruns) and speed (steals). It was an important moment, also, because it helped bring down colour barriers not only in baseball but in society in general. But this should be remembered, too; Robinson was not only symbolically important as the first black player, but he was one heck of baseball player. Tim Marchman wrote in the New York Sun last week:

"He was an MVP-caliber player every year between 1948 and 1953, and in that time, he basically hit like Alex Rodriguez did in his prime; he also had an additional three All-Star caliber years. You don't really have to credit him for being a pioneer or even for his legendary mastery of the inside game to rank him among the 100 best to ever play the game."

If you are at all a baseball fan, read Marchman's column to understand how great a player Robinson was. Sadly, the man who broke the colour barrier may mostly be remembered for the colour of his skin rather than his amazing skills and numbers. Celebrations to the contrary, that would not be a great thing for blacks, baseball or Robinson.

Saturday, April 14, 2007
It's not easy being green

Paul Wells is seldom funny but his post on Stephane Dion proving his green credentials is hilarious.

Tres cool

Roller coaster ride of housing prices since 1890. Really worth watching 'til the end. Neat, fun, informative although useless to explain what will happen in 2007 and beyond.

(HT: The London Fog)

The Doug Mientkiewicz experiment must come to an end

For the second time in as many games, the New York Yankees scored few runs and lost late in the game (5-1 in Minnesota on Wednesday after the Twins scored four in the eighth and 5-4 in 11 innings in Oakland). While he shouldn't shoulder all the blame, 1B Doug Mientkiewicz's lack of ability to get on base has proven itself to be an extremely serious problem for the Yankees. He is hitless in 21 ABs and is 125/192/125 on the year. He has walked only twice and has just three hits -- all singles. He has next to zero ability to reach base and his glove is not what it was five years ago. With injuries to Hideki Matsui and Johnny Damon and an already shallow bench, there are not a lot of options. But as I suggested in my analysis of the season (echoing the New York Sun's Tim Marchman), that it would be better to let Jason Giambi, a defensive liability with a lively bat, play 1B and have the three regular outfielders (Matsui, Damon and Bobby Abreu) get a day off by playing DH with second-year Melky Cabrera rotating in the outfield: it takes Mientkiewicz's useless bat out of the lineup, gives the elderly outfielders a rest and gives Cabrera a chance to develop. But even if Joe Torre lacks the imagination for this scheme, they would be better off giving the everyday 1B job to Josh Phelps. Dumping Mientkiewicz completely would allow them to carry someone else on the bench, another outfielder or infielder with more upside than carrying two relatively similar 1Bs. The Yankees don't need to wait any longer to shake things up, not because of their 4-5 record (good for fourth in the AL East) is cause for great concern but because Mientkiewicz has provided all the data necessary to make the decision that he has to go.

Thompson appeals to WSJ Republicans

Not that that's a bad thing. Fred Thompson makes the case for tax cuts in the Wall Street Journal. Nothing new or overly persuasive in his argument. He notes that the Bush round of tax cuts did not lead to an increase in the deficit. He implies, by noting that tax revenues have increased, that tax cuts lead to growth. The column is actually quite pointless but for one fact. He sends a signal to supply siders that he's one of them.

By the way, I saw a few minutes of Law and Order last night. Charlotte Ross played an Ann Coulter-type character (but worse!). From what I gather, she was shot at, an innocent by-stander was killed, and the Ross character was the bad guy, not the shooter. The shooter was suffering from Parkinsons and wanted to kill the Ross character, a critic of embryonic stem cell research.

Friday, April 13, 2007
Global warming and coral reefs

The IPCC noted (briefly on page 7 of its latest report) the damage done to coral reefs by global warming. Some scientists claim that coral reefs are extremely fragile and could only grow under very specific circumstances. But then again maybe not. As the Financial Times reported yesterday:

"One of the greatest mass deaths of coral ever recorded occurred when islands were lifted more than a metre out of the water in the 8.7-magnitude earthquake of March 2005 off the west coast of Indonesia’s Sumatra island, scientists said on Thursday.

The earthquake, which was linked to the December 26 2004 tremblor that triggered the massive Indian Ocean tsunami, uplifted Simeulue and Banyak by 1.2m, exposing up to 40,000 sq km of reefs, the report says.

However, new reefs off Simeulue and Banyak islands had started to grow despite conditions being very different from before the quake that killed 638 people, the researchers from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies (ARCCoERS) found.

This demonstrates how coral is able to adapt relatively rapidly to changing circumstances, the report concludes."

To repeat: "coral is able to adapt relatively rapidly to changing circumstances."

To be fair, the ARCCoERS states in a press release this week that it does support the IPCC's warnings on climate change and coral reefs.

Economist endorse Sarkozy

It is not an unqualified endorsement but The Economist endorses Nicolas Sarkozy for president of France:

"On the evidence of his career and his campaign, Mr Sarkozy is less a principled liberal than a brutal pragmatist. Yet he is the only candidate brave enough to advocate the 'rupture' with its past that France needs after so many gloomy years. It has been said that France advances by revolution from time to time but seldom, if ever, manages to reform. Mr Sarkozy offers at least a chance of proving this aphorism wrong."

Sarkozy's two big problems in the eyes of the magazine: his opposition to Turkey joining the EU and his "traditional French politician's meddlesome economic instincts." On the plus side, unless he follows in the footsteps of Jacques Chirac and governs much less conservatively than he campaigns, Sarkozy's meddlesomeness will be much less than either of his (serious) opponents's.

Liberal-Green deal

I want to work out the reasons more thoroughly but the deal between the Liberals and Green Party to not run candidates against each other's leader, seems a terrible idea that could come back to haunt both parties. And Elizabeth May's ostensible endorsement of Stephane Dion for Prime Minister really underlines that even the leader of the Green Party doesn't consider the Greens a real political party.

April 17 election call

Yesterday, NationalNewsWatch reported that "insiders" say that Stephen Harper will call an election on April 17. Without commenting on what I think the Governor General should do (namely invite Stephan Dion to form the government because she need not entertain the PMO's hubris), here's my prediction: he calls three Quebec by-elections and perhaps one in Ontario. It will be a gage for how the Tories are doing in Quebec and whether a general election call in late 2007 or early 2008 might be wise. One big reason for that timing, as opposed to now, is that there will likely be fewer casualties in Afghanistan because the Taliban is not as militarily active in the winter months.

Catching up with Gerry

Calgary Herald interviews Gerry Nicholls who says that even in his post-NCC life he will continue pressing smaller government.

Don Imus

I haven't had much to say about the mess Don Imus got himself into because much that was needed to be said was being well said elsewhere: against the race hucksterism, political correctness and the phony 'gotcha' outrage that infects our public discourse. But something needs to be added -- or at least amplified because it has been said but not enough: Don Imus should be fired but not because he's a racist or sexist but because he's a jerk. And worse, a not very entertaining jerk. And stupid. He's a stupid jerk. I won't say this often but Joel Stein says it best in today's Los Angeles Times:

"Don Imus is an idiot. I don't mean that what he said was idiotic, or that his racism makes him stupid. I mean that Don Imus is just not that bright.

I know this because when I was in elementary school, Imus was my hero. He called people "weasels," and when something merited even more disapproval, he "nuked it," which meant that he used a bomb sound effect. These gimmicks were tremendously cool to an 11-year-old. Not only did I call everyone a weasel for all of sixth grade, but when I got in an argument with my seventh-grade teacher, I called in to 'Imus in the Morning' and got Miss Shimshack nuked.

So Imus has the same sense of humor as a mildly bright seventh-grader."

But it is not entirely Imus's fault. He has listeners. And guests. Again, Stein: "Senators and journalists happily suffered the fool. Imus asked people such as John McCain dumber questions than [Howard] Stern asked strippers, and they laughed it off."

But why? you ask. Because Stern dealt with topics that the media formerly known as mainstream didn't want to handle whereas Imus brought his 'shock jock' sensibilities to what the media pooh-bahs considered news: politics. It has degraded politics, politicians and the audience much more than it has degraded Imus. He was already "simplistic and juvenile" which works for "simplistic and juvenile things" -- and politics might now qualify. Race (and gender) in America, though, is not simplistic or juvenile. One must never note that blacks and whites (or males and females) are different, unless it is to point to the disadvantages that plague blacks and whites.

I think Imus's firing is a little bit unfair. He he has gotten away with such stupid things before, although not about race, so how was he supposed to know that he crossed a line he has certainly crossed in the past? The problem for Imus is that the term shock jock is so 1990s; in 2006, is there anything that is really shocking? Well, one thing: saying impolitic things about race. Commenting on the hair of blacks is a relatively small offense so it seems that Imus is likely a victim of the feigned shock of the race hucksters and the politically correct herd that buys into their professional outrage. But considering who Imus is -- the ease with which he was outraged by the non-outrageous and a man who made talk radio a less civilized place -- it is hard to feel sorry for him.

Future of Wolfowitz at the World Bank


Virgin births to come?

The BBC reports that scientists have created sperm from adult stem cells taken from bone marrow. The sperm is 'immature' (as are half the jokes that I've come up with but will not post on this subject) sperm although it may only be a matter of time until scientists create reproductive sperm from bone marrow or other sources of adult stem cells. Right now, at least in the United Kingdom, use of such reproductive sperm would be illegal but as the past fifty years has illustrated, what was once prohibited can become legal.


1) Why? Why would scientists engage in this type of research? Is there a sperm shortage in the world?

2) One possible answer to why: although the bone marrow used in these initial experiments came from males, it might one day be possible to turn adult stem cells from women into sperm. That would permit two women involved in a lesbian partnership to become 'natural' parents although when you are turning bone marrow into sperm and conceive the child in a petri dish, the word 'natural' loses a lot of meaning.

3) If sperm can be created from the stem cells of women, it is possible that a woman could become both father and mother to her own offspring. I can barely resist a joke about the technological equivalent of the prospective mother effing herself.

Should end it there.

Thursday, April 12, 2007
EU considers raising roaming fees

And Tim Worstall points out why it is a bad idea, especially for those with lower incomes.

MoveOn madness reports that Hillary Clinton placed fifth in a Democratic presidential nomination straw poll of 42,882 members. Senator Barack Obama, the 2007 version of John F. Kennedy, ran first at 27.87% followed by Senator John Edwards at 24.84%. As The Hill reports: "Clinton finished a distant fifth with 10.7 percent, also trailing Rep. Dennis Kucinich (Ohio) with 17.18 percent and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson with 12.26 percent." HRC is behind Dennis Kucinich, 2007's Jerry Brown, among members. Think about that for moment. It says so much more about MoveOn.orgers than Obama, Clinton or even Kucinich.

Polling data

Two interesting facts from the Los Angeles Times-Bloomberg poll:

1a) 43% of Republicans think that the country is on the wrong track.

1b) 74% of Republicans approve of the job President George W. Bush is doing; 75% support his handling of the economy and 66% support his handling of Iraq.

2a) Fred Thompson has pulled ahead of Senator John McCain among Republican voters for 2nd place.

2b) Rudy Guiliani is a strong second (behind Thompson) among Religious Right Republican voters.

2c) Guiliani has an overwhelming lead among women (32% to Thompson's 12% and McCain's 8%).

I guess that's really five points.

Or what the sexual revolution has unleashed

From the Associated Press: "The sexually transmitted disease gonorrhea is now among the 'superbugs' resistant to common antibiotics, leading U.S. health officials to recommend wider use of a different class of drugs to avert a public health crisis."

Things that make me laugh

Sad Kermit does Hurt (HT: Hacks and Wonks)

Saturday Night Live's TV Funhouse's Maraka -- a play on Dora the Explorer.

A human rights issue?

Last month, Human Rights Watch issued a report on access to condoms in American prisons and jails.


One week after some fairly decent press in the form of a moderately fair profile in the New Yorker, World Bank president Paul Wolfowitz is combatting charges that he (in the words of the Financial Times) "personally directed the World Bank’s head of human resources to offer Shaha Riza, a bank official with whom he was romantically involved, a large pay rise and a promotion as part of an external secondment package." I generally agree with neoconservative foreign policy but what is it with the general incompetence of neocons. There are some things you just don't do. Wolfowitz should know better.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007
She saw the hand-writing on the wall

Blahlinda Stronach hangs it up. NationalNewsWatch reports that Blahlinda has said she will serve in public life, for now, in an unelected capacity, blah, blah, blah. I've been predicting this since it was clear that the Tories would win the 2006 election. It's no fun sitting in the opposition benches when you've tasted a cabinet seat. It's even less fun when a return to government is nowhere in sight. I'll refrain from commenting on how she'll be (presumably) joining Chrysler at an analogous crossroads moment as she joined the Liberal Party in 2005.

Politician pay

Vaughan Palmer's Vancouver Sun column says that when politicians examine their remuneration, a pay hike is inevitable. I've got an article on politican pay in the current Report magazine that examines the issues of total rumeneration (including accountability) and whether our elected representatives are worth it. There's a sidebar story at the end of the original article (that I also wrote) on Jack Layton, "working class hero."

Big Bucks
Are politicians paid too much?

Paul Tuns
April 2007

In December, Ontario Members of Provincial Parliament (MPPs) set off a firestorm of protest when they extended the session just before its scheduled Christmas break simply so they could vote themselves a 25 percent pay raise, increasing MPP's salaries from $86,860 to $110,775. It was quite the Christmas bonus.

It is unclear whether Ontario voters and the media were more upset with the size of the salary increase or the fact that politicians were the ones who decided to hike their own pay. But aside from popular cynicism, the spectacle raised important issues about how politicians are paid, how their salaries are increased and whether their remuneration really needs to be at the level of private-sector executives to attract quality candidates.

In Canada, it is difficult to compare the total remuneration paid to city councillors or members of provincial and federal legislatures because some cities and provinces exempt one-third of the salary from income taxes, and some have generous expense allowances (also one-third tax-free) while other provinces and the federal government do not; it is like comparing apples to oranges. But according to estimates included in a 2006 report by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation - Saskatchewan, Canadian politicians get paid from a low of nearly $57,000 in Prince Edward Island to $147,700 at the federal level. Many also get paid extra for additional duties such as holding cabinet posts or chairing committees. City councillors in big cities get paid mostly in the $70,000 to $90,000 range (Vancouver is a notable exception at $52,442), with mayors getting paid $140,000 to $160,000.

So are they worth it? Gerry Nicholls, vice-president of the National Citizens Coalition, says federal and provincial leaders and cabinet ministers deserve their pay, but not backbenchers. "Premiers, the prime minister and cabinet ministers are not overpaid," he says, "They are executives and have important responsibilities. Their pay should reflect that." But backbenchers, he explained, "are essentially voting machines." Noting that they vote the way their leaders tell them to, Nicholls says, "paying somebody $147,000-plus is a lot of money for someone whose job description essentially entails putting up their hand whenever they are told."

In 2006, the prime minister made $295,400, while federal cabinet ministers earned $217,500. Ontario s premier will make nearly $200,000 in 2007.


Mark Milke is a conservative columnist and author of three books, most recently A Nation of Serfs?: How Canada's Political Culture Corrupts Canadian Values. He takes a slightly different tack. Asked if politi-cians deserve their pay, he answers: "It depends." He points to former British Columbia NDP finance minister Glen Clark (who later became premier) and former Ontario NDP finance minister Floyd Laughren as undeserving of generous salaries. "My guess is that most voters would have paid a bit extra to have someone who wasn't economically illiterate and anti-wealth-creation in those positions." As for backbenchers, Milke says the pay is generally high enough to attract talented people to politics. If someone will not run because a "six-figure salary isn't enough, they need to learn the definition of 'public service'."

Scott Hennig, Alberta director for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF), is amused by the argument offered by politicians that exorbitant increases are necessary to convince talented people to run for public office. He points to the fact that there is seldom a shortage of candidates for elected office, and notes that when an incumbent does not face serious (or any) competition for his or her job, it is more often a reflection on the electoral strength of the sitting politician than the lack of financial reward. "If there was a shortage of serious candidates," Hennig concedes, "perhaps a good argument could be made to increase their salaries."

As for the notion that politics cannot attract qualified people to run, Hennig simply points to the Edmonton city council. Among the current city councillors, five have master's degrees, three are former MLAs and one is a former school board trustee, while others are former nurses, teachers, newspaper editors and successful businessmen. It is obvious, Hennig says, that the "level of compensation must be adequate to attract quality candidates." He also points to intangible benefits of elected office: power, fame and civic-mindedness, to name a few.


Hennig says that his organization makes no judgment about whether the total remuneration for elected representatives is at an appropriate level, but instead focuses on whether salaries and the process to increase them are "fair, transparent and consistent." Hennig says that "citizens have a right to know what politicians are paid."

Unfortunately, it is not always easy to determine what politicians earn, in part due to an arcane provision in the income tax law from the first half of the 20th century which permits any level of government to exempt up to one-third of salaries and allowances from federal and provincial income taxes. This makes comparisons between different juris-dictions difficult. For example, last year Edmonton city councillors were paid an advertised salary of $63,638, but if their salaries were adjusted for the tax-free allowance, their total comparable salary was $73,773. By comparison, Ottawa city councillors were paid $70,000 -- none of it tax-free. The advertised salary for Edmonton councillors is $6,362 less than their Ottawa counter-parts, but their effective salary, once adjusted for income-tax exemptions, is $3,773 more.

Another reason salaries are not transparent and fair is that allowances are also provided on top of salaries, and not all provinces pay allowances. But there is something misleading in the term 'allowance.' Hennig notes that many voters probably think that allowances are the same as expenses: provide a receipt for a legitimate expense and get reimbursed for it. But that is not how it works. Allowances are paid on top of the salaries automatically, regardless of whether expenses were incurred or not. Plus many jurisdictions compensate for additional expenses.

In Saskatchewan, members of the legislative assembly have an annual expense allowance of $5,426 -- more, if they have additional responsibilities such as holding the chair of a committee, leading a political party or sitting as a member of the provincial cabinet. But there are also dozens of other expenses for which MLAs are compensated on top of the expense allowance: office staff and constituency services, travel by both car and air, living expenses for MLAs from outside the capital city of Regina, and meal expenses. What is left to fall under the one-third expense allowance is hard to understand.


What may well gall the public the most is not the amount of money their politicians make, but how pay increases are decided. There is a wide variety of methods that politicians use to increase their remuneration. Some tie automatic increases (or decreases) to changes in external, independent measures such as inflation, cost of living or average weekly earnings. Among the provinces and territories that follow this model are Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Ontario, Saskatch-ewan and the Yukon. On the other hand, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Northwest Territories, Nuna-vut, Quebec and Prince Edward Island rely on appointed commissions or changes in public-sector agreements that the politi-cians themselves are respon-sible for (or at least can influence).

But in recent years, some cities and provinces have voted themselves additional increases on top of the automatic adjustments that are tied to changes in the provincial average weekly earnings or consumer price index (CPI). Despite an annual salary bump due to the increase in Alberta's average weekly earnings in the province (as determined by Statistics Canada), last year Edmonton city councillors voted themselves a 13 percent increase in base pay, a 30 percent jump in car allowance and an 87 percent increase in retirement savings plan contributions. The total increase was 21 percent -- on top of the adjustment reflecting the Calgary- and Fort McMurray-driven improvement in average weekly earnings.

Hennig says that tying changes to the average weekly earnings is enough, and that additional increases were unneces-sary. He says that linking city council pay to changes in average weekly earnings maintains a connection between the elected and the electorate, and also says that (to a degree) reflects how well elected representatives are doing. If average weekly earnings decline, politicians do not deserve a pay increase because government policies may be hurting the economy. On the other hand, if the economy is booming, that reflects sound economic policies by the government. In Ontario, MPPs extended the length of the House calendar in order to vote on raising their salaries, despite CPI-linked increases after Integrity Commissioner Coulter Osborne released a report in early December calling for a 25-percent pay increase in remuneration to 'close the gap' between provincial and federal politicians. Osborne said this was needed to prevent MPPs from running for federal office. Cynics say Ontario politicians wanted to get the pay raise out of the way before Christmas because the Legislature was not scheduled to sit again until March -- seven months before a scheduled provincial election. Politicians, critics say, are counting on short memories by voters.

Both Mark Milke and Gerry Nicholls say that arms-length panels are preferable to politicians being able to vote themselves a salary increase. Milke says simply that they "shouldn't be able to raise their own pay." And even better yet would be to make any changes to remuneration -- whether voted on by politicians or decided by an independent panel -- effective only after the next election. "That way, at least," Nicholls says, "voters would have a chance to pass some judgment. The bottom line is voters need a say in political pay. After all, they are supposed to work for us."

In many jurisdictions, Hennig says, voters cannot make informed judgments and sound comparisons about the total compensation of elected officials because the advertised salary is not reflective of normal pay packages once allowances and tax-exemptions are taken into account. The CTF has called for remuneration that is fair (free of double standards that are not typically available in the private sector, including tax-free income and non-expensed allowances), transparent, and tied to changes in indices such as cost of living or average weekly earnings that are determined by independent bodies. Only then will Canadians know if they are getting their money's worth out of their municipal, provincial and federal politicians.