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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Sunday, September 30, 2007
Bye, bye Mets

The New York Mets went 1-6 in the final week and lost 17 of their last 21 to squander one of the best records over the first fews months and miss the playoffs. (The Mets also went 2-6 just before the All Star Game and were 4-13 in the first three weeks of June, so they are certainly prone to losing skids.) Considering how lousy they've been in recent weeks, it was fitting they lost 8-1 on the final day to the lowly and division bottom dwelling Florida Marlins. What really sunk the Mets, however, was losing their final seven games with the Philadelphia Phillies (four in Philly in August and three in New York in mid-September). The Phillies ended up winning the National League East by one game (89-73 compared to 88-74 for the Mets).

Despite a 34-18 record at the end of May, the Mets blew it, playing sub-500 ball (54-56) the rest of the way. The season is a marathon not a sprint and the collapse may cost manager Willie Randolph his job*, but it isn't really his fault -- the relief corps management assembled for Randolph didn't work out, they knew that early on and the team didn't try acquire more bullpen help at the trading deadline. Anyone who has watched the Mets in recent weeks knows that the starting pitching and hitting have largely produced and that it seems every loss occurred when the ball was passed to the middle relievers. It is really too bad that baseball fans won't get to see the two most exciting young players in the game (3B David Wright and SS Jose Reyes), one of the best all-around players (Carlos Beltran) and pure pitching wizardry (Pedro Martinez) in the post-season.

* The Yankees should pick Randolph up if the Mets let him go; he is infinitely smarter than Joe Torre and usually maximizes the effectiveness of every player. Randolph would be an asset to any team, one of the few managers that can be said about, but he seems likely to be the fall guy for the Mets collapse.

Miss Moneypenny, RIP

Lois Maxwell, the actress who was born Lois Hooker in Kitchener, Ontario, and is best known for playing Miss Moneypenny in the Bond series has passed away at the age of 80.

Further evidence John Tory is a moron

Over at The Shotgun, Rick Hiebert notes Ontario PC leader John Tory went trawling for votes by appearing on the TV program Fishin' Canada. Hiebert explains, "The Ontario Tory leader proceeded to go fishing with the host of the show and then chatted with the host about various policy ideas that might encourage sport fishing in Ontario." Hiebert wonders:

"My guess is that fishing fans in Ontario would already tend to overwhelmingly vote Conservative, so I hope that Mr. Tory had fun on the show anyway. Those electoral waters might be overfished, you could say."

While it never hurts to shore up the base, this seems to be a wasted effort on Tory's part and yet another sign of awful political instincts (see also Suncor deal, the 1993 Kim Campbell campaign and the losing 2003 Toronto mayoral race).

For what it's worth

Reuters reports the UN envoy to Burma could meet detained opposition leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi but that government officials still refuse to meet with Ibrahim Gambari. The UN said in an official statement that, "He [Gambari] looks forward to meeting Senior General Than Shwe, Chairman of the State Peace and Development Council, before the conclusion of his mission." Still, as Reuters reports, "Than Shwe, who is based in Naypyidaw, the new capital 240 miles north of Yangon, and whose government rarely heeds pressure from outside." In other words: none of this matters in terms of what the final outcome of the bloody protests or the future of the regime.

Mugabe was always a dictator

James Kirchick writes in the Los Angeles Times about the revisionist journalism and commentary regarding Zimbabwean tyrant Robert Mugabe. He begins by noting:

"As Zimbabwe's president, Robert Mugabe, presides over what might be the most rapid disintegration yet of a modern nation-state, it has become de rigueur for journalists, politicians and academics to offer what has become a near-universal analysis: Mugabe, who has ruled his country uninterrupted for 27 years, was a promising leader who became corrupted over time by power.

This meme was popularized not long after Mugabe began seizing white-owned farms in 2000. Four years ago, in response to these raids, the New York Times editorialized that 'in 23 years as president, Mr. Mugabe has gone from independence hero to tyrant.' Earlier this week, Archbishop Desmond Tutu said that 'I'm just devastated by what I can't explain, by what seems to be an aberration, this sudden change in character'."

But, Kirchcik says, the last four to seven years has not been aberrant, it is typical and expected, even if it is ratcheted up from the thuggishness of the first two decades of rule -- well, even before he came to power:

"[I]n 1978, four black moderates announced that they had reached an 'internal settlement' with the white regime, paving the way for democratic elections. One of these leaders, Ndabaningi Sithole, dispatched 39 envoys to meet representatives of Mugabe and Joshua Nkomo, another guerrilla leader. The envoys were captured, murdered and, according to Time magazine, "their bodies were then laid out by the guerrillas in a grisly line at the side of the road as a warning to local tribespeople."

The next year:

"Mugabe's organization released a death list naming 50 'Zimbabwean black bourgeoisie, traitors, fellow-travelers and puppets of the Ian Smith regime, opportunistic running-dogs and other capitalist vultures.' During those elections, Mugabe and Nkomo's forces killed 10 black civilians attempting to vote. Mugabe's men also blew up a Woolworth's store and massacred Catholic missionaries."

Once in power:

"He confiscated about a dozen private companies associated with the rival ZAPU party and expropriated farms that were owned by associates of Nkomo (his erstwhile liberation ally), a harbinger of what he would do to white farmers 20 years later. At a political rally in 1982, Mugabe said about his own political party: 'ZANU-PF will rule forever.'

In 1984, Mugabe imprisoned Methodist Bishop Abel Muzorewa, who had won the 1979 multiracial election boycotted by Mugabe, for 10 months without charge, falsely accusing him of conspiring against Zimbabwe."

In the early 1980s, a single army unit killed between 10,000 and 30,000 Zimbabweans. Mugabe is not just now becoming an evil dictator; the world is just now noticing that he is an evil dictator. As Kirchick concludes:

"[A] fully honest accounting also would have recognized Mugabe to be, whatever his virtues, an authoritarian thug hellbent on acquiring -- and attaining -- power at all costs. Mugabe's destructive behavior over the last seven years has not been "an aberration" but is perfectly consistent with the way he has ruled Zimbabwe since 1980."

Shocking news: people get away from state schools because state schools suck

The Independent reports that in parts of Britain there might be an increase of up to 800% over the past five years in the number of children being homeschooled although the paper suggests that perhaps "some schools have encouraged it as a way of improving league table ratings for truancy and educational performance." Other reasons the paper finds include the special educational needs of children and to avoid bullies. What about the quality of education offered by state-run schools?

Single-issue media

Lorrie Goldstein writes in the Toronto Sun that people, especially:

"Conservatives, who, not having voted for the party that won -- the Liberals -- will be wondering how a minor promise by Progressive Conservative Leader John Tory to publicly fund a few more faith-based schools, became the elephant in the room that obliterated everything else."

I'll explain that one for you: the media. Early in the campaign the Toronto Star featured a neat little chart looking at which issues received what percentage of the media coverage. John Tory's funding of religious schools received, by far, most of the coverage. Then the Star dropped this feature but anyone who looked at the daily papers saw that the topic still featured prominently each day, usually with headlines like, "School funding issue dogs Tory" and "School funding issue still dogs Tory." Anyone paying attention to John Tory's campaign noticed that he was making announcements about other issues and that he was still asked by the media and voters every day about the funding of religious schools. PC candidates I talked to said the same thing -- everywhere they go, they are asked about school funding, to the detriment of getting their message out about other issues. The only reason for this is because journalists and, to a much lesser degree, the opposition have used the issue as a stick with which to whack the Progressive Conservatives, stirring up secularist and sometimes anti-religious sentiment among Ontarians. Religious school funding is the media's obsession, not John Tory's.

I'm no fan of direct funding of religious schools because I fear that bringing them under the public system and forcing them to teach the curriculum, accredit teachers the same way and bring in standardized testing will threaten the religious component of the education they provide. Nor do I care about Tory's electoral success. But it is unfair that he lose the election on this issue. There are so many other reasons -- his personal and ideological blandness, for example -- why he should lose.

Figuring out tie-breakers

At the beginning of game play today, here are the playoff races in the National League. (Other than seeding, the post-season participants for the American League are settled.)

National League East
New York Mets 88-73 -
Philadelphia Phillies 88-73 -

National League West

Arizona Diamondbacks 90-71 -
San Diego Padres 89-72 1

Wild Card

San Diego Padres 89-72 -
Colorado Rockies 88-73 1
New York Mets 88-73 1
Philadelphia Phillies 88-73 1

So the Mets and Phillies are battling for the NL East Division title and failing that may still qualify for the Wild Card if the Milwaukee Brewers beat the Padres. If the Padres win, they clinch the Wild Card. But if the Padres lose, and the Rockies beat the Diamondbacks, the Phillies beat the Washington Nationals and the Mets beat the Florida Marlins, there will be a four-way tie for the Wild Card. But first the Mets and Phillies play a one-game playoff for the NL East Division title. The loser gets thrown into the pool to determine the Wild Card. Confused? So am I. Here are the rules from Major League Baseball to determine division winners and wild card spots.

Head-to-head and inter-division record are only used to determine seedings in the post-season, not which teams make it there. The likelihood of the multi-way tie is low, but it is not unreasonable to think the Mets and Phillies will need to play a one-game tie-breaker. What this all means is that for four teams today, "meaningful games" takes on a whole new significance; after 161 games it all comes down to the final game of the season. The game to watch is the Padres-Brewers because the Padres are the only team whose post-season possibilities are not at least somewhat in another team's hands. A win and they go on.

Saturday, September 29, 2007
No Newt

Newt Gingrich is not going to run to run for president so he can focus on American Solutions for Winning the Future. And to avoid constant reminders that he is a philanderer who serial discarder of wives.

Past Britannica

The Daily Telegraph reports:

"The Ministry of Defence has produced a plan to decommission five warships from next April, which would reduce the Navy's capability to the level where it could carry out only 'one small-scale operation'."

This is part of a trend of decreasing the size of the Royal Navy that began in the 1960s, but reducing the fleet from 103 vessels today to 50 over the next 20 years is pretty radical. And stupid. As Liam Fox, the shadow defence secretary, said: "Any reduction in our forces' size at present would be insane, given our unsafe world and the level of our current deployments." At one time, the Royal Navy was the largest in the world. Then again, at one time, England was a country of consequence. The plan to decommission over half the fleet admits it is no longer such a country.

Never mind the final two weeks

Greg Staples looks at the latest polls and declares the Ontario election over. I wish. The Liberals lead the Tories 43-33% and democraticSPACE has McGuinty's party winning 60 seats -- a strong majority. But things can change over the course of twelve days, especially during a campaign.

'Hope' for Burma

CTV reports: "A United Nations envoy arrived in Burma on Saturday with hopes of convincing the ruling military junta to ease its violent response to massive demonstrations." If by 'hope' they mean wishing-for-the-best-without-doing-anything-to-make-it-happen sense of hope, then that is about all Ibrahim Gambari can bring from the UN. Neither he nor the world organization has a plan or anything to negotiate with to bring about a solution or to make things better.

Update: Of course, that was assuming Ibrahim Gambari was going to be let in the country. Burma's rulers have not let the UN envoy in. Surprise, surprise.

The value of religious education

During the homily at a Mass for the opening of the new school year, Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin, Archbishop of Dublin and Primate of Ireland, said:

"There is a viewpoint which tends to look at religious education as something ideological, divisive and doctrinaire and perhaps not really a good thing for young people and certainly alien to what should belong to a school curriculum in a modern pluralist democracy.

The contrary is true. True religious education leads to an opening of children's minds and helps them along the first steps to reflection on the meaning of their own lives and values. It stimulates that openness to the transcendent that encourages the young person to go beyond him or herself. It invites young people to experience the love of God which insists on love of one's neighbor."

Just something for Ontario's anti-religious education zealots to think about.

(Thanks to Fr. Thomas Rosica for passing this on.)

Friday, September 28, 2007
The Ottawa Citizen on Canada's $14.2 billion over-taxation

The Citizen editorializes:

"News that the federal surplus for 2006-07 will exceed $14 billion ought to make Canadians angry -- and make us start demanding some of the largesse. Whose money is it, after all?

... Now, it's true that the surplus will go toward reducing the federal debt. That is good. And it's also good that the government promises to pass the interest savings on to taxpayers. But it's still unsettling that the Conservatives, supposedly frugal managers of the public purse, are hauling in more tax revenue than they can spend."

The danger is, as the editorialists at the Citizen note, "Governments make bad decisions when there is too much money available." And even some conservatives don't have much faith that the Harper Conservatives aren't going to spend the surplus/over-taxation on vote-buying. As Gerry Nicholls says, "More likely Prime Minister Harper will take most of that surplus loot and use it to buy votes in places like Quebec."

By law, most of the surplus must go to paying down the debt (which then saves interest but from what I understand also involves some financial penalty to make up for the lender's lost of interest income). The interest savings will pay for the $750 million tax cut -- or about $20 per person. But considering that the "surprise" surplus is an annual event, how about cutting next year's taxes now so there aren't any more monster surpluses and Canadians can be given a real tax break. If the Conservatives don't give it back to taxpayers, their political opponents and the media will point to large surpluses and a number of continuing "problems" that many people believe can be solved by spreading some dough:

1) Major cities that can't afford to make ends meet;
2) Long wait times in healthcare;
3) The lack of a big, expensive plan for the environment;
4) No national childcare scheme;
5) Rising post-secondary tuition.

If the Tories don't find a way to spend the taxation surplus, their critics will. And then how long until the Harper Conservatives increment their way toward their critics rather than toward smaller government?

The truth about tolerance

At least the faux liberal kind of tolerance, as described by Ann Coulter:

"Liberals are never called upon to tolerate anything they don't already adore, such as treason, pornography and heresy."

Thursday, September 27, 2007
Monkey business

An Austrian court ruled that 'Pan', a chimpanzee, is not a person -- a human being with legal rights -- and thus need not have a guardian appointed to him in order to protect his interests in case the chimp's current shelter closes. The court did so on the technical grounds that the Association Against Animal Factories had no standing in the case rather than the common sense argument that chimpanzees are not human beings. I agree with the association's president Martin Balluch when he says, "It is astounding how all the courts try to evade the question of personhood of a chimp as much as they can." The AAAF said it will appeal the decision to the country's Supreme Court where it is far from certain the top judges won't be up to any monkey business in redefining legal personhood.

Sports stuff

For the 13th season in a row, the New York Yankees are going to the post-season. Remember they were under 500 at the All Star Game, so this is something very special. They clinched their sport with a 12-4 victory of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

Whatever you think of Barry Bonds, anyone who loves baseball has to rejoice that the homerun record breaking ball is headed to Cooperstown. Marc Ecko bought the ball in an auction and set up a website to let fans decide the ball's fate; one of Ecko's ideas was to launch it into space. Thankfully, this did not 'win'. It will, however, be vandalized with an asterisk signifying public opinion that his record is tarnished, but at least it will be in the Hall of Fame. Bonds, to remind readers, has never tested positively for steroids or been convicted in a court of law for using steroids.

This might be a joke, but it appears that a Serie C team in Italy is for sale on eBay. The price for Juve Stabia spa when I checked was just over 5,600 euros. (HT: The Offside)

Wednesday, September 26, 2007
Worst defense of a broken promise ever

Globe and Mail columnist Jeffrey Simpson explains why Ontario Liberal leader Dalton McGuinty broke his 2003 promise not to raise taxes:

"The granddaddy of photo ops, however, featured Mr. McGuinty signing a written pledge not to raise taxes. The pledge was published by a small but noisy lobby group, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, most of whose members weren't going to vote Liberal anyway. The Conservatives in that campaign kept insisting that the province's books were balanced, but almost everyone who had studied the entrails of provincial finance knew the Conservatives were, shall we say, obscuring the truth."

Let's dissect this.

1) Simpson might call it a photo op but it was still a campaign promise.

2) Simpson seems to be saying that it was okay to lie to the CTF because it wasn't like their supporters were going to vote Liberal anyway, never mind the signal to the rest of Ontario that McGuinty sent about his intention not to raise taxes.

3) If "almost everyone who had studied the entrails of provincial finance knew" the truth about Ontario's financial situation, why wasn't Dalton McGuinty, the leader of the opposition one of them? So instead of being dishonest, McGuinty is just stupid. Or if he wasn't aware of the real state of the province's financial situation, he was negligent in his duties as leader of the opposition. Any way you cut it, McGuinty was in the wrong, whether he broke a campiagn promise or not.

We're number seven!

According to the World Bank Group's Doing Business 2008 report, Canada ranks #7 in the "ease of doing business" (the measure of regulations, property rights, tax burden, free trade, etc... that private enterprise must deal with in order to operate in a country), while Singapre is #1 and the United States is #3. Notably, Canada did not make reforms in any of the ten reforms measured by the study, although many other developed countries (Australia, Belgium, Germany, Netherlands, Switzerland) did, especially in reducing the regulations governing 'starting a business' and 'paying taxes.' From a quick glance, I see that Portugal was the most reform-minded European country, improving in five of the ten areas. The report also says that Egypt is the top reformer, followed by Croatia and Ghana.

The federal government should keep out of the lunch-halls of America

The Washington Post reports that Congressman and "public health advocates want the [federal] standards to ban the sale of Gatorade and Powerade" at schools. Well, of course they do; public health advocates are always trying to ban something and Congress is always interfering where it shouldn't. The Post highlights the political solution to a non-existent problem:

"A billion-dollar battle over selling sports drinks and "enhanced" water in public schools has spilled into Congress and threatens to derail a major attempt to cut back the sale of junk food from school vending machines and snack bars.

In an attempt to limit the sale of high-calorie sodas, candy bars and other snacks in schools, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) has introduced a bill that would have the government set new nutritional standards for the foods and drinks that schools sell to students outside cafeterias...

Under current law, meals served in school cafeterias must meet some standards, but snack bars, school stores and vending machines may sell anything that contains at least trace amounts of protein, vitamins and minerals. The result: Many students make a meal out of a bag of chips, a sports drink and a chocolate bar."

It should be obvious to all that a federal program is necessary, post haste.

And here's what's most troubling:

"Harkin's bill, which he hopes to incorporate into this fall's farm bill, has been co-sponsored by 25 senators. More than 100 organizations, from the American Federation of Teachers to the Yale Prevention Research Center, support the plan. Eager to avoid bad publicity, even the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the American Beverage Association, which have historically resisted any regulation, say they are 'open to discussing' federal standards to avoid a patchwork of state and county rules."

We all understand that public health do-gooders and fascist teachers unions want to interfere in people's lives -- both the producer's to create and sell a product and the consumers to buy and use it. But when the manufacturers and distributors get it on the act, its called boot-licking and we shouldn't be surprised at the erosion of our freedom.

Information that will win your bar bets

From The Guardian (apropos of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad claiming Iran has no homosexuals):

"Iran has between 15,000 and 20,000 transsexuals, according to official statistics, although unofficial estimates put the figure at up to 150,000. Iran carries out more gender change operations than any other country in the world besides Thailand."

Who would have guessed?

Times reports Israel will destroy Iranian nuclear targets

The (London) Times reports:

"ISRAEL has drawn up secret plans to destroy Iran’s uranium enrichment facilities with tactical nuclear weapons.

Two Israeli air force squadrons are training to blow up an Iranian facility using low-yield nuclear 'bunker-busters', according to several Israeli military sources.

The attack would be the first with nuclear weapons since 1945, when the United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Israeli weapons would each have a force equivalent to one-fifteenth of the Hiroshima bomb.

Under the plans, conventional laser-guided bombs would open 'tunnels' into the targets. 'Mini-nukes' would then immediately be fired into a plant at Natanz, exploding deep underground to reduce the risk of radioactive fallout.

'As soon as the green light is given, it will be one mission, one strike and the Iranian nuclear project will be demolished,' said one of the sources."

If the story is true, here's what follows: Israel saves the world from having to deal with Iran and will then be roundly criticized for threatening regional war and resolutions will be passed at the UN condemning Israel and calling for sanctions.

Clinton-Bayh in 2008

Over in his Daily Telegraph blog, Toby Harnden explains why Hillary Clinton will pick Indiana Senator Evan Bayh to be her running mate as well as explains why he makes the perfect vice presidential candidate next year:

"Yes, he's a senator (a drawback - windy, too many votes to be exploited in attack ads) but this is balanced by his executive experience as Indiana governor. He has no major foreign policy background but Hillary has thus far done a decent job of establishing plausible commander-in-chief credentials.

Bayh is of presidential timbre - a prerequisite for a vice-president and the reason why Dan Quayle, who defeated Bayh's father turfing him out of his Senate seat in 1980, was such a disastrous choice by George Bush Snr (though it didn't stop his being elected).

Bill Clinton himself predicted in 2000 that Bayh would be the Democratic nominee by saying: 'I hope and expect some day I'll be voting for Evan Bayh for President of the United States.' Of course, if Bayh did become Hillary's veep then he'd be well placed to snag the top job in 2016 - but maybe I'm getting ahead of myself.

By endorsing Hillary this week, he has proved his loyalty and given her campaign a significant boost at a time when she's edging closer and closer to seeming like the 'inevitable' candidate she intended to be much earlier."

Hillary is running as the Democratic Leadership Council candidate and Bayh shares the same centrist mentality. David Brooks explained in the New York Times yesterday why HRC is a centrist candidate: "moderate on social issues, activist but not statist on domestic issues and hawkish on foreign policy." Within the party, especially among the netroots nuts and John Edwards, Hillary certainly appears centrist by comparison. So if Hillary Clinton qualifies, so does Bayh.

More importantly, Bayh resisted running for the Democratic presidential nomination himself this time 'round. That is, he never stood in Hillary's way. The Clintons are petty people and if Bayh had run, he would have disqualified himself in their eyes. That's why another equally qualified candidate, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson won't be chosen. (That and other reasons that Harnden explains). Former Virginia Governor Mark Warner would have fit the bill, but he's running for Senate now; former Iowa Senator Tom Vilsack would bring nothing to the table but Iowa; Virginia Senator Jim Webb is probably a little too crusty and too recently a Republican to be handed the Democrat's veep nomination. When you get right down to it, Bayh is not only the logical choice, but nearly the only choice.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007
That's awfully big of The Dalt

CTV reports that Dalton McGuinty was talking about the possibility of a minority government and he said: "The electorate will do its own thing in its own course and I accept that." He better damn well 'accept' it.

For what it's worth

Democratic Space has the Liberals just (56 seats) winning a majority. Today's SES poll has the Liberals ahead 41% to the Tories' 33%. The only important question left for small-c conservatives is whether John Tory will lose by enough to go away -- or does he stick around to fight another day.

Further evidence that new is not always improved

The Fraser Institute has a new website. It's yucky, especially compared to its old, attractive, functionally useful website. But then again, as a conservative I just don't like change. Still, I hope to see you at the Forced Union Memberships & Political Dues: What Happened to Human Rights in Canada? talk this Thursday in Toronto.

Important otter news

Nyac turns 19. Nyac is an otter than survived the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Nyac is fat and perhaps it should be. As someone in the video notes, at 19 Nyac is quite old for an otter -- the equivalent of 100 years for human beings. I guess its oil bath in 1989 didn't hurt little Nyac all that much; in fact, based on anecdotal evidence, surviving oil spills is good for otters.

Reassessing Mulroney

Over at, Nik Nanos says Brian Mulroney's election victories speak for themselves and that history will treat him kinder than the popularity lows he left office with. Not an entirely convincing argument. As Paul Wells says:

"I'm not sure election victory should actually be a debate-ender. Chrétien won three majorities; will history be 50 percent kinder to him than to Mulroney? Pearson never won a majority; when will history get around to calling him a jerk?

History, incidentally, has had 14 years to start reassessing Mulroney, and unless it is actually Mulroney holding the pen, history still seems a mite cranky."

Carrot vs. Dion

A few days ago I noted a blog post by Gerry Nicholls who suggested a few possible replacements for Liberal leader Stephane Dion. One possible replacement -- and my personal favourite -- was "a carrot." Today, Gerry pits carrot vs. Dion to see who would make the better leader according to criteria such as vision, charisma, environmental policy and speaking ability. For example:

"Charisma: Stephane Dion is a former academic with a keen interest in constitutional affairs. A carrot is an inert piece of vegetable matter.

Advantage: The Carrot"

In fact, the carrot is the hands down winner, despite, as Nicholls points out, the fact that carrots don't have hands.

Survivor China

I admit that I watch Survivor, but I'm uneasy watching its latest incarnation, the 15th season based in Red China. The reason why is simply that the ChiComms are still brutal dictators. Dictatorship with a smidgen of capitalism is still dictatorship. The New York Sun nicely encapsulates some of the problems with its suggestions for contests for this season's Survivor competitors in an editorial today:

"• Try to write a letter to the editor criticizing the government. The first team to publish without getting arrested or the paper closed down wins.

• Vie to build Beijing Olympics 2008 venues. Like many of the estimated 2 million migrant workers struggling to build luxury hotels for VIPs, they will work 10-hour days, seven-day weeks, and will be given Chinese New Year off to visit their families.

• Travel to an "AIDS village" in Henan province, where tens of thousands of men, women, and children were infected through unnecessary transfusions in a state-run blood scam. The teams must try to seek diagnosis and treatment for the deadly illness at the hospitals that will turn them away and call the police.

• Get sent to "reform through labor" camps for publicly advocating religious freedom or democratic change.

• Attempt to free the seven Tibetan schoolboys arrested and beaten in early September for scrawling Tibetan independence graffiti on the walls of buildings in Gannan prefecture, one of China's official "Tibetan autonomous" areas.

• Be released into one of China's internet cafes to attempt to penetrate China's "Great Firewall." The Chinese government's estimated 30,000 censors will try to stop teams conducting online searches for terms like "democracy," "dictatorship," and "freedom," along with human rights Web sites and with the names of leading Chinese dissidents and intellectuals.

• Seek to solemnly mark the anniversary of the June 4, 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre. There will be extra points awarded for successful commemoration in the actual Square, which is being polished for parades around the Olympics Opening ceremony."

If the name of the game is survival, the reality in China is that it is literal. Except for the regime's guests on the so-called reality show.

Sunday, September 23, 2007
The political is personality

Norm Webster looks back at Brian Mulroney in his Montreal Gazette column and says:

"His volume fires at a range of targets including Lucien Bouchard ("well-planned deceit and betrayal"), Clyde Wells ("a vain, egocentric and consumed man") and the deeply hated Ottawa press gallery. He tells the remarkable story of a boy from the remote drabness of Baie Comeau who, through effort and discipline, actually makes it to the top of the greasy pole and hangs on for nine years.

The lesson it teaches is the old one political parties - the federal Liberals, right now - still ignore at their peril: Politics is personality. As a friend of Mulroney confided one day decades ago, 'That Brian, he could charm a buzzard down off a shitwagon.' (I know it's appalling, Madam, but that is the way they talk.)

The thing Mulroney's Memoirs make plain is that this applies as much to foreign affairs as to domestic politics. Personality is key. Mulroney set out to flatter and beguile Ronald Reagan, and he succeeded, without which there would have been no free-trade agreement. The payoff was huge."

We may not like this development, but that is the way it is now. So what explains Dalton McGuinty or Jean Chretien?

New issue of up

This one focuses on foreign policy. Or at least, the world beyond Canada's borders. I would have thought that a Canadian journal of ideas might want to look at Canada's foreign policy, but one of the feature reviews is Mark Milke's (good) review of Michael Oren's Power, Faith, and Fantasy: America in the Middle East 1776 to the Present. If a Canadian online journal is going to review foreign publications, written by foreigners, about foreign powers, you'd think it would at least draw some lessons for Canadian foreign policy. Ditto Michael Lindsay's short piece on Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy (calling them Thatcher lite -- might not the same thing be said of Stephen Harper?). Interesting pieces all, but one of the problems with Canadian conservatism is that is always looking beyond our borders. C2C and beyond, it appears. I get how difficult doing completely or even mostly Canadian content is, but I think such an outfit as c2cjournal must do better on this account.

Saturday, September 22, 2007
National League excitement

Going into today's games, every team atop each of the NL divisions led by 1.5 games and the San Diego Padres led the Philadelphia Phillies by 1.5 games in the Wild Card race. Meanwhile, according to the Baseball Prospectus Playoff Odds report, the American League is decided except for who will face who. September baseball can be as good as October baseball; see today's 10-inning, five-hour Yankees-Jays game, one day after the 14-inning match up last night. And while we're at it, John Brattain explains the Blue Jays' mediocrity at Hardball Times -- "They stuck with a low risk strategy and ended up with a low reward."

The next Liberal leader?

Gerry Nicholls has come up with a hilarious "list of people who would make a better leader than Stephane Dion."

Friday, September 21, 2007
Economic growth and well-being

On some news program I overheard earlier today, some talking head said we need to move beyond traditional economic measures such as GDP or employment numbers or inflation rates and look at the well-being of every individual. While the relationship is not perfect, individual well-being goes up when the economy grows and decreases when the economy stalls or falters. More importantly, this is the kind of pointy headed comment only a comfortable Westerner could make. I would suggest she read Rich Lowry's column on declining child mortality rates and economic growth in the developing world:

"The United Nations Children’s Fund just announced that deaths of young children worldwide hit an all-time low, falling beneath ten million annually. Better practices to protect against disease and to enhance nutrition — more vaccinations and mosquito nets, more breast-feeding and vitamin A drops — played a role, but the most important factor in this global good-news story is economic growth.

It is no coincidence that as UNICEF was reporting the drop in child mortality, the World Bank was reporting global poverty rates had fallen as part of an extraordinary worldwide economic boom...

Because we in the West have reached the sunny uplands of sustained economic development, we can worry about the deleterious second-order effects — pollution, etc. — of growth. In too many places around the world, however, economic growth is still a matter of life and death. Governments, philanthropists, and activists have been pouring massive resources into fighting AIDS and other diseases in the third world recently. This is all very commendable, but we can’t ignore the main event.

By all means, let’s save the world — help it grow."

No more bridge to nowhere

A small victory for opponents of pork. As reported by the Associated Press:

"Gov. Sarah Palin ordered state transportation officials Friday to abandoned the 'bridge to nowhere' project that became a nationwide symbol of federal pork-barrel spending.

The $398 million bridge would have connected Ketchikan, on one island in southeastern Alaska, to its airport on another nearby island."

Impressive that the recipients of the pork are the ones turning it down.

A bit of humour from LifeSite

Murphy's lesser known laws. My fave:

A fine is a tax for doing wrong.
A tax is a fine for doing well.

Thursday, September 20, 2007
Who won the Ontario leaders' debate?

If we count on polls, we don't know. I think it was John Wright from Angus Reid who told CFRB tonight that they don't poll immediately after the debate itself but rather they wait until a few days later so voters, most of whom didn't watch the debate, have time to consider the post-debate debate about who won. Got that? In other words, when you see some pollster telling you who won the debate, 1) it is mostly his own impression of who won and if it is any more than that, 2) there is a good chance it reflects many people who never saw what they are passing judgement on and 3) the opinions expressed are not their own reactions to a single event but a reaction leavened by newspaper, television and talk-radio coverage of the debate. I didn't watch the debate, but from the snippets played on 680 News afterward and the debate on CFRB, I'd say that [FILL IN YOUR OWN PREFERENCE HERE] won.

Media bias -- conservatives told bias skews their way,
Or why George Will is more popular than Robert Scheer or Paul Krugman

Last week, the AP ran a story on a study by Media Matters for America that claimed to find a bias in favour of conservatives in terms of syndicated media columns. The most syndicated columnist is George F. Will, which reflects less his ideological slant than the fact that he is a great writer and thinker.

AP reports that Media Matters:

"[F]ound that 60 percent of the daily newspapers print more conservative syndicated columnists each week than liberals. Twenty percent of the papers are dominated by liberals and 20 percent are balanced. Media Matters had no information on local columnists. It's similar to how conservative talk radio voices dominate, although to a much more limited extent."

Three things about that paragraph:

1) The study demonstrates its own bias by using the word 'progressive' rather than 'liberal.' I'm surprised that they didn't refer to conservatives as 'reactionaries.' Or does the AP demonstrate its bias when it substitutes 'liberal' for 'progressive'?

2) It is telling that they didn't collect information on local columnists. My guess (based on the papers I've ever picked up) is that most local columnists are liberal. I have a theory: conservative writers are good enough to get a national following but liberals do not.

3) The AP story ignores a more pertinent number: bias by circulation. The original report states:

"[N]ationally syndicated progressive columnists are published in newspapers with a combined total circulation of 125 million. Conservative columnists, on the other hand, are published in newspapers with a combined total circulation of more than 152 million."

That is much closer than than 60% conservative, 20% liberal, 20% balanced.

But there are other problems with the story and study. The top five most syndicated columnists are Will, Kathleen Parker (conservative), Ellen Goodman (liberal), Leonard Pitts Jr. (liberal) and David Broder (not labelled). Well, there goes my argument that non-conservatives don't have a national following because they can't write. But if the media were so biased in favour of conservatives, shouldn't the split not be two conservatives, two liberals. (And in fact it is three liberals -- who doesn't understand Broder to be a man on the left?) Among the next five most syndicated are those notable New York Times conservatives Thomas L. Friedman and Maureen Dowd. So of the top ten, you have a 50-50 split. Now that's bias.

One last thing about the study before looking a little more closely at George F. Will. The idea of this kind of study -- breaking down the number of syndicated columnists by ideology and then circulation and state and region, etc... -- is a quaint. Other than the bias exhibited by a handful of influential media outlets (the news networks, the evening news, the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, and the news weeklies) that set the tone for so much of the rest of new and old media, who cares about the bias of the small town and mid-size dailies? It's so 1980s.

The AP quotes Alan Shearer, editorial director and general manager of the Washington Post Group that syndicates Will, who thinks that part of the columnist's mass appeal is that he unpredictable. Shearer should read Will's collections of columns. In one of his first he notes that some person wrote him to say he liked Will's columns because they were unpredictable. Will said he definitely is not unpredictable to anyone familiar with the Old Oxford Movement. It says a lot about modern conservatism that anyone would find Will "unpredictable." But Shearer is partially correct when he says, in the words of AP, that Will is popular because his column "contains original reporting and is not just opinion." It's not reporting, but it is more than opinion: it is informed opinion, rooted in the deep soil of conservatism. It is not just bloviating, it is finding the kernel of truth and real consequence in the flotsom of the daily news. Few columnists, liberal or conservative, can do that. But conservatives, as part of the reality-based community, are more likely to pull it off.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007
August Interim

August issue of The Interim is up. Notable reads include:

National Affairs columnist Rory Leishman looks at the liberal bias in the awarding of the Order of Canada.

Russ Kuykendall reviews John O'Sullivan's The President, the Pope and the Prime Minister which he calls, "A spiritual biography of the end of the Cold War." There is also a little sidebar on the seven lessons the book provides.

We cover a Joseph Farah speech that took place in Toronto and review Farah's latest book Stop the Presses! The Inside Story of the New Media Revolution.

And finally, an editorial on ethical organ donations. It concludes:

"But there are two forms of organ donation that are always immoral because they result in the death of the donor: those taken from people after "brain death" and so-called 'non-heart-beating donors' (NHBD). When vital organs such as the heart, liver, lungs, pancreas or intestine are removed from a patient declared 'brain dead,' it is the removal of the organs that kills the patient. The heart was still beating and the blood circulating at the time of the removal surgery - the act that kills the patient. This can never be allowed. Ditto for NHBDs when such patients have normal vital signs and a 'functioning brain,' but are still taken off all life support, including a ventilator. Once there is no discernable pulse, the organs are removed - killing the patient.

It is compassionate to want to alleviate the suffering of patients awaiting organs. It may even seem pro-life to do so. In brilliant PR parlance, it is 'the gift of life.' But you cannot take the life of one person to give it to another. It is always wrong and must be resisted. As pro-lifers, we cannot support transplants that kill the donor."

Tuesday, September 18, 2007
More about those by-elections

Stephane Dion says he is to blame for the poor showing of the Liberal Party in three by-elections Monday night, but absolves himself of any consequences for his party's poor showing. Dion said: "It's my responsibility to win the by-election and I take the responsibility for what happened and the responsibility to be sure that next time we'll be stronger." Imagine messing up in your job and saying, "I screwed everything up but I'll do better next time." That's what Dion is saying. As I will note below, I think he owes it to his party to tell it how he'll be stronger next time.

Warren Kinsella: "And it means that the Liberal Party of Canada needs to get its head out of its arse. Staff changes, organizational changes, policy changes, you name it. Top to bottom, all of it. This was big, and that needs to be acknowledged." Kinsella doesn't explicitly say so, but the failure of Dion not to act would be a greater reflection of how poor a leader he is than the actual by-election results.

National Post columnist Don Martin says that the day after the by-election defeats Dion went into ostrich mode, with the Liberal leader saying, "It's a setback, but we are a great party and we'll go ahead and we'll win the general election."

National Post columnist Andrew Coyne says that the real story is not the disappearing Liberal support or that fact's reflection on Liberal leader Stephane Dion. As Coyne notes: "Most of the damage, in other words, had already been done -- the legacy of sponsorships, years of Liberal infighting and the dilution of the party's federalist identity under Martin. The worst that can be said of Stephane Dion is that he has not, in the space of 18 months, turned things around." Instead, Coyne says, the real story is the "collapse" of the Bloc Quebecois. But then again, Coyne would say something like that, wouldn't he? All his career Coyne has made a point of being different from the rest of the Canadian punditocracy; he has too much of the iconoclast in him. But he has a point when he says, "All told, the BQ saw two-fifths of its vote go up in smoke last night, the only party to suffer a decline in all three ridings." Fair enough, but by-elections are by-elections that do not always portend future trends, a fact Coyne demonstrates with his noting of previous NDP breakthroughs (Newfoundland in 1978 or Quebec in 1990).

At best all I think you can say about the by-elections is that they make Canadian politics a little bit more ... em, interesting. As I noted yesterday (about which Gerry Nicholls says I'm a bit of a downer), whether or not Quebec is in play, the four major parties will believe it is.

And lastly, as CTV and CP note, the Liberal total of 12 out of 75 seats in Quebec is the party's poorest showing in the province since Confederation. Dion's job must be to present his comprehensive plan on how he will restore the Liberal brand in Quebec. He must do this to the Liberal Party, even if only to his caucus and strategists to prove he truly comprehends the depth of the problems his party faces. If he can't do that, he deserves to be thrown overboard by his Grit colleagues. Typically I don't like party leaders not getting a chance to face the electorate but Dion's ineptitude is something to behold.


Questions, comments, abuse, etc... can be sent to paul_tuns[AT]

People not screwing up Canada

The blog formerly known as 101 people who are screwing up Canada is now 101 people who are screwing up Canada (and 10 who are not). The change reflects an attempt to remain positive -- and it is a welcome addition to the blogosphere. When I checked there were 60 comments nominating and discussing 10 people who are making a positive impact on the country, from Gerry Nicholls to Mark Steyn, Preston Manning to Anne Cools, Kate McMillan to Gary McHale, Steven McIntyre to Tim Ball. But the people "not screwing up Canada" are many, indeed the vast majority of the country; most people are not really affecting the trajectory of the nation for better or worse and are thus not screwing it up (or making it better). So the real issue is 'who are the 10 people contributing to its betterment?'.

I'm not sure I can answer that because it is too soon to tell what the impact of some worthy nominees will be. McIntyre and Ball have both fought to expose environmental scare-mongering and bad science but whether or not it helps Canada is not yet known. Also, I think Margaret Somerville adds a lot to public debates on moral issues, but I have no idea if they have any tangible benefit. One person often nominated and who deserves to be is Chief Clarence Louie, who is promoting economic development not reliance on the Indian Industry as the path for improving the lot of Canada's native population. He is making a real difference in (some) people's live and if his example were followed elsewhere across the country, Indians everywhere would benefit.

The fact is that those who contribute to our society are mostly anonymous individuals going about their everyday work -- the cop tracking down child pornographers, soldiers standing on guard for thee, parents sacrificing for their families, teachers inspiring children, priests and pastors saving souls, etc... What it comes down to is this: who makes Canada a great country? Canadians do.

If the enviro-zealots are turned back, Ball and McIntyre deserve to be on this list; so will Dr. Brian May if helps turn the tide against socialized medicine. As for most politicians and journalists, even the good ones, their country-benefiting accomplishments are modest, at best. I like reading a Mark Steyn column as much as anyone else, but what does a 750-word article do for our country other than entertain and inform a segment of the population who already agrees with him?

Ontario leaders weigh in on gay issues

Three of the four major(ish) parties -- the Green Party is included -- are interviewed by the homosexualist newspaper, Xtra, while Liberal leader Dalton McGuinty merely sent a written reply in which he said that he is proud to have worked to advance the gay agenda and to have homosexuals in his cabinet. Xtra asks the others about gay students, gay seniors, HIV policy, sex reassignment surgery among other issues, but this is my favourite question:

"Xtra readers recently voted Queen's Park the best place to have sex in public in Toronto and Xtra has made a plaque to honour this distinction. As premier, would you display it outside the legislature?"

None of the three leaders would commit to displaying the plaque. Howard Hampton said, "That would be an interesting plaque. Let me put it this way, I'd certainly want to see the plaque. Whether it deserves a place in the legislature or the park outside I'd have to look at, but I'd want to see the plaque first." John Tory said, "I don't think so. I don't think it is something that I would like to see on the seat of government. There's a lot of things that I probably wouldn't put up in Queen's Park, in a park that has a memorial to the veterans of war." (Nice to know that there something Tory won't do to suck up to the gay vote.) And Green Party leader Frank de Jong said succinctly: "No, I don't think so. That's going a bit too far."

Monday, September 17, 2007
The by-elections and what they mean: Dion down, Quebec up

The Liberals are 0-3 tonight in three Quebec by-elections, two of them on their home turf. Tories, Bloc and NDP all get to claim a victory. (See CBC, CTV and Montreal Gazette.) Gerry Nicholls demonstrates that a picture is worth a thousand words.

And for once what is bad for the Liberal Party is also bad for Canada. After winning only its second seat in Quebec (ever), NDP leader Jack Layton will believe his party has a chance in the province; the Harper Conservatives will likewise focus on extending their presence in Quebec; the Liberals will be desperate to regain their stature there. All this means that Quebec will be the center of Canadian politics for the foreseeable future. Again. Let the posturing and bidding commence.

Waiting for the brokered convention

I've noted before that every election cycle pundits start to talk about a brokered convention and then such predictions or scenarios never even come close to occurring. In today's Michael Barone writes that we shouldn't expect one in 2008 either. But Barone goes beyond the "some-candidate-will-win-it-outright-before-the-convention" argument -- an argument obvious to anyone who's watched American politics at all in the past three decades. Instead, after offering a short history of the parties' conventions, Barone says that the modern convention doesn't serve the same purpose as those of yesteryear. Because of the lack of long-distance communications in which politics was conducted (even long-distance calling by FDR's campaign manager in the 1930s was considered extraordinary), "The old-time convention was a medium through which men who seldom saw each other and often didn't know each other could communicate, negotiate and reach an agreement." Conventions brought together not the national party but the separate state parties that comprised the national party; today, the parties are national and communication more advanced and regular. From "frequent air travel" to "an abundance of public opinion polls" to the internet, there is no shortage of intra-party communication and contact. As Barone says, "The kind of communication that was possible only at the convention in the old days is now going on all around us." In recent decades, the convention has been used for a different kind of communication: advertising. Now conventions communicate messages not to other party leaders and activists but the public at large. The function of the convention has radically changed.

Barone makes a sudden jump in argument, but his conclusion is persuasive: even if no candidate can get a majority of delegates from the caucus and primary process before the convention, "no one is going to wait for the convention to negotiate an outcome." That is, the party brass are not going to let delegates wearing funny hats choose their presidential candidate. Everyone knows that a divisive convention where the top two (or more) candidates battle it out for the nomination would tear a party apart on national TV; such a spectacle could have terrible consequences going into the general election campaign.

The brokered convention is a thing of the past. Pundits who take the possibility seriously prove that they should not be taken seriously.

Rand's influence

Such is Ayn Rand's influence that not even the New York Times can ignore Atlas Shrugged, perhaps, Harriet Rubin argues, one of the most influential books on capitalism ever written. The most interesting part is the list of entrepreneurs who admit Rand was decisive influence on their life. I couldn't imagine Canadian businessmen doing the same.

Sunday, September 16, 2007
Good today, bad tomorrow

The New York Times Magazine has an interesting piece on the changing knowledge of medical science. The first example offered in the article is of estrogen therapy which eventually expanded from a fix for some symptoms of menopause to a more comprehensive form of care (hormone-replacement-therapy) for a variety of more serious ailments related to aging until 2002 when, after 15 million women were on HRT prescriptions, it was exposed that it might be harmful. Gary Taubes of the Times writes:

"Many explanations have been offered to make sense of the here-today-gone-tomorrow nature of medical wisdom — what we are advised with confidence one year is reversed the next — but the simplest one is that it is the natural rhythm of science. An observation leads to a hypothesis. The hypothesis (last year’s advice) is tested, and it fails this year’s test, which is always the most likely outcome in any scientific endeavor. There are, after all, an infinite number of wrong hypotheses for every right one, and so the odds are always against any particular hypothesis being true, no matter how obvious or vitally important it might seem."

Yes, scientific knowledge changes. So all that diet and lifestyle advice we get today is based on what is known now -- not necessarily what is true or right. This is not an argument against science, but is an argument for greater humility when it comes to the claims that scientists make.

Best line on Dalton McGuinty

Gerry Nicholls has a great post on the lame Liberal ads airing in Ontario. His line on Liberal leader Dalton McGuinty pertains to the Dalt's appearance in those commercials but I think they describe him generally, too: "He looks like a guy rehearsing for a job interview."

UN chief on Darfur

Earlier this week, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon wrote about his visit in Darfur for the Washington Post. Here's how it begins:

"We speak often and easily about Darfur. But what can we say with surety? By conventional shorthand, it is a society at war with itself. Rebels battle the government; the government battles the rebels. Yet the reality is more complicated. Lately, the fighting often as not pits tribe against tribe, warlord against warlord.

Nor is the crisis confined to Darfur. It has spilled over borders, destabilizing the region. Darfur is also an environmental crisis -- a conflict that grew at least in part from desertification, ecological degradation and a scarcity of resources, foremost among them water.

I have just returned from a week in Darfur and the surrounding region. I went to listen to the candid views of its people -- Sudanese officials, villagers displaced by fighting, humanitarian aid workers, the leaders of neighboring countries. I came away with a clear understanding. There can be no single solution to this crisis. Darfur is a case study in complexity."

Translation: the United Nations isn't going to do anything about the genocide and other human rights abuses taking place in Sudan. Further translation: the UN won't even take sides. Then again, we wouldn't have expected anything else.

If you read on you will fed a steady stream of UN cliches: "it's now or never" (to be fair, he was quoting Moammar Gaddafi), "the importance of listening to the voices of a broad range of society," "our logistical preparations are underway," "no peacekeeping mission can succeed without a peace to keep," "There can be no single solution to this crisis," "this underscores the need for a comprehensive approach to the conflict," "Solutions cannot be piecemeal," and, my favourite, "the international community can play an important role." It's too bad that cliches don't save lives. But the real clincher that nothing would be done to address the injustices in the region was this: "I promised that we would do our best to bring peace and to help them return to their villages." As we have repeatedly witnessed, the UN's best is not good enough. Just ask those, in say, Rwanda. And remember the vows of "never again" -- another cliche that UN officials utter but don't back up.

Saturday, September 15, 2007
Tory's faith-schools plan may be unpopular but it is more popular than the Tories

The Toronto Sun sub-head noted that a "Poll shows 50% oppose Conservative plan to fund all religion-based schools." That might be true but it doesn't necessarily matter. According to the SES Research/Sun Media poll, half of Ontarians oppose John Tory's plan to bring faith schools under the public system but 43% support the idea. As SES president Nik Nanos recognizes, that is enough to win a majority government. It is also about 6-10 percentage points ahead of where the Tories poll, which means that the idea to fund faith schools is more popular than the party trying to sell it.

Still, I think the poll doesn't tell us much. The more important question on specific issues like this is not whether it is generally supported or opposed, but whether it matters to voters and whether it will change or keep votes. That is, how intense are the feelings about an issue. Nanos says that opposition to the Tory schools plan is more intense than the support. But even that doesn't tell you a lot. Is the intensity enough to change votes? Perhaps Liberal and NDP-voting secularists hate the idea of giving their money to religious schools, but that wouldn't matter because secularist Liberal and NDP voters weren't the target demographic John Tory was shooting for; he didn't have their vote anyway.

More importantly, is whether voters will change their minds about voting intentions: 1) are Tory voters opposed to the plan less likely to vote for the Progressive Conservatives? or 2) are Liberals in favour of the plan more likely to vote for the Tories? I doubt many PC supporters will abandon their party of this issue, but I do think some traditionally Liberal religious minorities (Muslims, Jews) will vote Tory out of economic self-interest. If these assumptions are true, John Tory's religious schools gambit can pay off -- no matter how unpopular it may be.

Proof that David Miller is an idiot (as if further proof were needed)

From the Toronto Sun:

"A website set up by Mayor David Miller to garner support for his proposed tax increases has instead become a lightning rod for Torontonians wishing to voice their outrage and disgust.

Miller unveiled on Thursday and urged the public to visit the site and to leave a comment encouraging their city representative to approve new land transfer and vehicle registration levies, a proposal councillors put on the backburner in July.

But the site has instead been flooded by citizens expressing their opposition to the mayor's plan, a plan he figures will take care of a good chunk of the $575-million budget shortfall the city is predicting for next year."

Who, other than Toronto's mayor, wouldn't have seen that one coming? After all, the mayor's tax-increasing plan was scuttled earlier this year by city council only after municipal politicians heard from unhappy Torontonians. One would guess that if the taxpayers of Toronto didn't like the land transfer tax and automobile registration fee this past Summer, they aren't going to like it this Fall. Having spontaneously risen up to oppose Miller's tax grab several months ago, did the mayor really think that they'd get behind it now simply because he urged them to on his pro-tax website?

The truth about Canadian health care

From Canadian Blue Lemons:

"I remember when Rex Murphy said that 'it's a sorry state of affairs when a nation defines itself by Hockey and Healthcare'. Our healthcare system is not a defining principle of Canadian-ness. It is an insurance program for which we have decided not to pay the higher premium."

Phone freedom on airlines

The lead to a discussion at the Financial Times states:

"Budget airlines are leading the introduction of in-flight mobile phoning and some larger carriers are trialling the technology. Is there etiquette for using a mobile phone in crowded public places? Tell us your experiences."

Of the first seven responses, six were against the idea (pleas to protect the "last oasis" from mobile phones) and the only one in favour said: "Yes - but only if the airlines also allow passengers to slap one another during flights."

All seven FT responses are about how annoying other people's calls are. And there are ways to solve this so-called problem. As Jimmy Guterman wrote in 2006 in Fortune, "the next logical step is for the airlines to follow Amtrak's lead by creating 'quiet sections' on planes and charging a premium for them." Anyway, I don't assume that is why airlines have prohibited mobile phone freedom on their flights, but rather it is over safety concerns. Since 9/11 some of those worries are centered on terrorists communicating with one another, but I don't take that threat too seriously. Nothing will thwart terrorism quite like having eavesdroppers listen to terrorists discuss his murderous plans over their phones. The more serious concern is that planes will crash because someone is talking to a loved on the ground or finishing a business deal at 15,000 feet. But as the BBC reported in 1999:

"But most of the evidence is circumstantial and anecdotal. There is no absolute proof mobile phones are hazardous. But, as Mr Hawkes explains, even the possibility of interference by mobile phones has serious consequences.

'There's an industry consensus, throughout the world, that mobile phones are a potential hazard to aircraft and must be switched off'."

There's an industry consensus -- much like the global warming consensus, I'm sure; the science doesn't say planes will crash but someone is saying it so we must all abide the scare mongering. A few years back, either National Review or The Economist reported that no government agency or airline would conduct studies on whether mobile phones actually presented a danger to in-flight planes. But why not? And if mobile phone use was truly dangerous would some airlines, such as bmi and TAP Air Portugal in 2005, experiment with in-flight personal mobile phone use once the plane reaches 10,000 feet? (Another European airline will permit such calls later this year, prompting the Financial Times discussion.) Ann Coulter once wrote that it is an innate human desire to control others and that businesses are no different in this temptation than governments. But companies seldom get the opportunity to exercise such control. Airlines do. With some luck, they'll relinquish such control as passengers realize they do not jeopardize their own lives by making a high altitude call.

There is, of course, another reason besides controlling others that lead airlines to ban mobile calls -- profit. Most airlines have been slow to negotiate roaming fee charges for flights but as the airlines and mobile phone providers work out the details, passengers will find that formerly safety-minded airlines will permit them to make calls from high in the sky. But only once they can get in on the action.

So we could have airlines charging some passengers a premium to sit in a mobile phone-free section of the plane and charging other passengers (through their mobile phone provider) a surcharge for the privilege of calling during the flight. And the great thing is that everyone is happy. Aren't free markets great?

Friday, September 14, 2007
Suicide hot-lines

From last weekend's Boston Globe:

"The journal Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior has published a remarkable series of articles on the effectiveness of suicide hot lines, opening a window into the world of desperate people and the volunteers who try to help them get through the night. Two of the unprecedented studies involved eavesdropping on suicide hot-line calls...

What stands out, though, is just how often the helpers failed to meet the basic standards for either approach. In 723 of 1,431 calls, for example, the helper never got around to asking whether the caller was feeling suicidal.

And when suicidal thoughts were identified, the helpers asked about available means less than half the time. There were more egregious lapses, too: in 72 cases a caller was actually put on hold until he or she hung up. Seventy-six times the helper screamed at, or was rude to, the caller. Four were told they might as well kill themselves...

There were 33 evident on-line suicide attempts, yet only six rescue efforts, sometimes because the caller ended the communication. In one case, a caller who'd overdosed passed out, yet the helper hung up."

The paper asks: "Do suicide hot lines reduce suicide rates? Researchers have come to conflicting conclusions." For example, another study published in Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior found that of 1,085 callers to suicide help lines interviewed, 136 "times the helper ordered some kind of rescue" and 12 percent reported that their call had kept them from harming themselves.

Overall, these numbers indicate that sometimes the person on the other end saves a life and sometimes he doesn't. But overall, I think that most people would be astonished at how ineffective all this effort to save suicide-minded people really is. On the other hand, those who call suicide hot-lines are people who are in precarious circumstances and are inclined to (at the very least) harm themselves; maybe by that point there is very little that can be done.

Another thought crosses the mind of Tyler Cowen: "I am curious how much of this problem is due to the non-profit structure of the institutions running the lines." One person commenting on Cowen's blog asks, what would a for-profit suicide prevention line look like? I think the point that Cowen is making, however, is that supposedly altruistic agencies have certain limits because of the nature of non-profits.

The point of the Globe article, however, may be nothing more than the advocacy of gun control. J. John Mann, a psychiatrist at Columbia, tells the paper that one way to reduce suicides would be better training for doctors so that they can detect depression. But the final paragraph of the article has Mann also arguing for "restriction of means," which the Globe's writer, Christopher Shea, explains: "That's a bit of medical jargon that means eliminating guns from homes."

When the sub-head says it all

A sub-head on a story in the Toronto Star (dead tree edition, front page of the World & Comment section) says: "Taliban expected to use Muslim holy month to intensify bombings, suicide attacks." It says a lot that a religious group would use their 'holy month' (Ramadan) to increase their murderous ways.

Thursday, September 13, 2007
Makes you want to bring up your lunch

Gerry Nicholls was at a luncheon where John Tory spoke and he has a predictable reaction:

"He also promised 'responsible, disciplined spending.' Is that the same as less spending? Somehow I doubt it.

And he also rattled off a list of groups that needed more government money: farmers, seniors, etc.

In other words, Tory wants to wage this election battle over the question of who can run a socialist government more efficiently."

As I've asked before, why vote Progressive Conservative when they're going to act like Liberals?

Wednesday, September 12, 2007
Lay back and think of Ulyanovsk

Authorities in the Ulyanovsk region of Russia want to encourage population growth so they've given workers half of the day off -- a Day of Conception holiday. Couples who have children nine months from today (June 12, 2008) will be eligible for prizes including money, refrigerators and a Russian SUV. Voice of America and Associated Press both have stories. This is the third annual Day of Conception to increase the region's population and past years have nearly doubled the number of births recorded on June 12. Pierre Trudeau's saying about keeping the state out of the bedroom comes to mind when you read Ulyanovsk Governor's Sergei Morozov's explanation for the Day of Conception:

"If there's a good, healthy atmosphere at home within the family, if the husband and wife both love each other and their child, they will be in good spirits and that will extend to the workplace. So there will be a healthy atmosphere throughout the country. The leadership (of the country) is interested in the family."

The Islamization of Europe

Maybe its an issue, maybe its not. But it is nonetheless interesting to note the names of the Brussels city council via Five Feet of Fury, the erstwhile Relapsed Catholic:

1. Fatima Abid
2. Mustafa Amrani
3. Samira Attalbi
4. Mohammed Boukantar
5. Philippe Close
6. Jean Baptiste de Crée
7. Ahmed el Ktibi
8. Julie Fiszman
9. Faouzia Hariche
10. Karine Lalieux
11. Marie-Paule Mathias
12. Yvan Mayeur
13. Mounia Mejbar
14. Mohamed Ouria Ghli
15. Mahfoudh Romdhani
16. Sevket Temiz
17. Freddy Thielemans
18. Christian Van Der Linden

A Brussels demonstration against the Islamization of Europe was (surprise! surprise!) shut down by the police. Brussels Journal has a report and video.

HIV still rampant but not as rampant as in the 1980s among New York City gays

The New York Daily News reports:

"HIV is staging a comeback among young gay men in New York, with new cases increasing by a third in those younger than 30 and doubling among teens in the past six years, health officials said Tuesday.

In 2001, there were 374 new HIV diagnoses among gay men younger than 30; last year, there were 499, a city report said. In gay males ages 13 to 19, cases increased from 41 six years ago to 87 last year.

Although those numbers pale next to the thousands stricken in the 1980s and 90s, they reflect the virus' obstinacy in the gay community, Health Commissioner Thomas Frieden said."

Tuesday, September 11, 2007
9/11 + 6

Six years after the horrible terrorist attacks on American soil, I am somewhat surprised by the lack of reflection in the print media about the anniversary. The New York Times had no editorial and only the National Post among the major Canadian dailies editorialized about the significance of the day. Perhaps everything that can be said has been said and there is nothing left to add. I find that hard to believe but, unusually, I find myself at a loss for words. Because a picture, especially moving ones, can be worth a thousand words, I link to these videos about which Peter Schramm at No Left Turns said: "Sometimes it’s good to both weep and become angry." And may the inadequacy of our words not lead to forgetting.

Liberalism vs. conservatism: it's all in your mind

The Los Angeles Times reports:

"Exploring the neurobiology of politics, scientists have found that liberals tolerate ambiguity and conflict better than conservatives because of how their brains work.

In a simple experiment reported today in the journal Nature Neuroscience, scientists at New York University and UCLA show that political orientation is related to differences in how the brain processes information...

The results show 'there are two cognitive styles -- a liberal style and a conservative style,' said UCLA neurologist Dr. Marco Iacoboni, who was not connected to the latest research."

Any guess which one is considered better by the researchers? Jonah Goldberg tears the study apart in his G-File column at NRO. But one need not really read his column to understand how silly the experiment that is the basis of the researchers' conclusion is. The Times reports:

"Participants were college students whose politics ranged from 'very liberal' to 'very conservative.' They were instructed to tap a keyboard when an M appeared on a computer monitor and to refrain from tapping when they saw a W.

M appeared four times more frequently than W, conditioning participants to press a key in knee-jerk fashion whenever they saw a letter.

Each participant was wired to an electroencephalograph that recorded activity in the anterior cingulate cortex, the part of the brain that detects conflicts between a habitual tendency (pressing a key) and a more appropriate response (not pressing the key). Liberals had more brain activity and made fewer mistakes than conservatives when they saw a W, researchers said. Liberals and conservatives were equally accurate in recognizing M."

Goldberg offers several alternative theories as to why the tendency for conservatives to get a lot of Ws wrong but my favourite is this one:

"Or perhaps, self-described conservatives are for neurological — or entirely ideological — reasons less eager to impress a bunch of guys in a lab coat. A recent — and, to be fair, very modest study — suggested that liberals care more about status while conservatives care more about money. So maybe, the young liberals saw an advantage that was lost on the conservatives, and thus the liberals tried harder."

Goldberg asks what the actual implications of this research might be (genetically determined politics? Why is Canada more than the United States?) and how the researchers might explain why people change politically over time (brain transplants?).

Goldberg concludes:

"I think it is astounding that so many people are eager to give credit to one of the most illiberal assertions science has made in a long while. Conservatives’ ideas aren’t wrong, their brains are!"

Monday, September 10, 2007
Best Ontario election analysis around

Gerry Nicholls provides the details of IRG's Greg Lyle's presentation on the Ontario election. Briefly: the Liberals are ahead and the election is McGuinty's to lose; the NDP seem to have a greater ability to influence the election than the PCs; most Ontarians claim to have not made up their mind so like every election, the campaign will matter. All of Lyle's data can be found here.

Caring less about the Conservatives

After a lengthy absence from blogging, Hacks & Wonks returns to say:

"I'm pretty much uninvolved with any politics at any level. Still a Tory member, but unhappy with both levels and will be waiting for someone to show leadership and give me hope before getting involved at a heavy level again."

I'm no longer a member of the Conservative Party at any level, but otherwise I totally agree. The Harper Party (as the annoying Jeffrey Simpson calls the federal Tories) has me entirely unenthused about it future success or lack thereof. The provincial Progressives under John Tory have me rooting for Dalton McGuinty and Howard Hampton. I figure the party gives Tory another chance if the election is close so a really distant second place finish (or worse -- I can dream) would allow for the rebuilding process to begin sooner rather than later. And by rebuilding I mean moving the party a little further to the right of where the Clintonesque Tory has it right now. So what does that mean for me now? Complaining from the sidelines and showing up on election day to cast a ballot against Mixed Member Proportional Representation but otherwise spoiling my ballot. And thanking God that in His infinite wisdom he gave us October baseball. When it comes right down to it, the sliver of difference between the liar McGuinty and the liberal Tory won't make much difference to me as a resident of Ontario. But a well-played World Series, regardless of the participants, can put me a great mood right through to Spring Training.

Coulter on Larry Craig

A few years ago I referred to Ann Coulter as the conservative's guilty pleasure. She says things that many of us think but would never say. I don't normally read, let alone link to Ann Coulter, but someone brought to my attention her column last week on the Senator Larry Craig pseudo-scandal and it is exactly what I've been thinking and (in conversations, if not this blog) what I've been saying. The whole column is worth reading -- perhaps more so than anything else written on the controversy -- but here's the best part:

"Liberals don't even know what they mean by 'hypocrite' anymore. It's just a word they throw out in a moment of womanly pique, like 'extremist' -- or, come to think of it, 'gay.' How is Craig a 'hypocrite,' much less a 'blatant hypocrite'?

Assuming the worst about Craig, the Senate has not held a vote on outlawing homosexual impulses. It voted on gay marriage. Craig not only opposes gay marriage, he's in a heterosexual marriage with kids. Talk about walking the walk! Did Craig propose marriage to the undercover cop? If not, I'm not seeing the 'hypocrisy.'

And why is it 'homophobic' for Senate Republicans to look askance at sex in public bathrooms? Is the Times claiming that sodomy in public bathrooms is the essence of being gay? I thought gays just wanted to get married to one another and settle down in the suburbs so they could visit each other in the hospital.

Liberals have no idea what they think about homosexuality, which is why their arguments are completely contradictory. They gay-bait Republicans with abandon -- and then turn around and complain about homophobia."

In other words, liberals are trying to have it both ways -- like a married heterosexual senator looking for a little anonymous gay sex in airport washrooms.

Different shades of green

I've argued here before that much of what is often considered pollution is really just wasted resources. The great irony is despite the anti-development/anti-free market views of environmentalists, businesses have an interest in reducing waste, too. Alex Singleton has a pair of related thoughts today at the Globalisation Institute blog. The first is about recycling:

"Green issues are sometimes perceived as in conflict with free markets, but here at the GI we disagree. They go hand in hand. Recycling, for example, is a profoundly capitalistic activity. Just as asset strippers and private equity investors take resources that are being used inefficiently and rearrange them to make them worth more, the recycling industry takes something of no value (rubbish) and rearranges it so that it is valuable."

Singleton argues that recycling would be more efficient (more people would recycle and recycle usefully) if there was a market price affixed to waste. The implication is that consumers not taxpayers should bear the burden of disposing of their garbage.

The second post is on the declining cost of recycled copy paper:

"Environmentally-conscious customers have increased the demand for recycled products. Paper mills today see it as a way of increasing market share. The Robert Home Group recently launched a rival to Evolve, called Motif Recycled+, which is cheaper. The price of recycled copier paper is declining and, as capacity and competition increases, it will reach the point where it is cheaper than virgin material. Its lower price will occur because recycling paper is less resource-thirsty than creating virgin paper, using 40% less energy.

In the market for business correspondence paper (where people buy thicker, watermarked paper) recycled paper is often cheaper already. A company switching its letterhead from an unrecycled Conqueror paper to a recycled Croxley Heritage one should find it saves money. The reason is that such paper does not benefit from such huge economies of scale. For Nash Mills, the promotion of its Croxley Heritage range is good business sense, helping it claw some of the market away from rival Antalis, makers of Conqueror.

This is yet another example of how market forces are helping to make good quality environmentally-friendly products at cheap prices."

However, many environmentalists oppose harnessing the power of free markets and entrepreneurs to advance a green agenda. I would go so far to say that there is more skepticism about free markets among environmentalists than there is about the environment among free marketeers. For me it is simple: whether or not the Earth needs more recycling, recycling will only take off when there is a market for recycled products. The best way to achieve that is to ensure that recycling produces comparable quality products at lower cost for consumers. This isn't rocket science. But the problem is not merely one of facts or understanding; it is about ideology and one side (the Left) obstinately standing in the way of their own goals because their hatred of free markets and entrepreneurs is greater than their love of the green, green Earth. The irony is that the kind of green capitalists and consumers care about most is the only thing short of (unnecessary) totalitarian measures that will protect the environment.