29 February 2008

Harper Family Values

Evangelist takes credit for film crackdown
Christian crusader says he pressured cabinet ministers and PMO officials to deny tax credits to productions deemed too offensive

- from the Globe & Mail, February 29, 2008

Headline says it all really. Welcome to Canuckistan - yes, we have no bananas!


28 February 2008

You War What You Eat


Latest addition to list of people who need to read Aquinas

John Hagee and, apparently, John McCain.


proper protocol

Like many online forms, the registration for Amtrak's Guest Rewards program, which gets you points for free travel, has a drop-down menu for "title" along with name, address, etc. One is then presented with the following options:

Captain, USA
Captain, USN
Chief Master Sgt.
Chief Petty Officer
Chief Warrant Officer 4
Jurist Doctorate
Lieutenant Commander
Lt. Col.
Lt. Gen.
Maj. Gen.
Master Chief
Master Sgt.
Rev. Father
Senior Chief
Sgt. Maj.


Obama-Santos '08

Media ecology at its finest.


27 February 2008


No, not the plucky and hard-hitting CBC radio drama...

...but the news that CIDA is apparently looking for a "signature project" in Afghanistan, some sort of large building, it's suggested, so as to make its financial aid "more visible" to the Afghan street.

This little tidbit is coupled with Peter Mackay's musings that withdrawing from combat actually means withdrawing the government from any direct control over when or where combat occurs. You've got to give the government points for this piece of sophistry: the Liberal withdrawal of their own combat operations against the Conservatives over the past few months has emboldened CPC strategists to make do with the flimsiest-possible rhetorical fig leaves, barely cover enough for the government's immodest and increasingly indecent flouting of public opinion, historical necessity, and good sense.

Taken together, I have the depressing impression that Canada is in the process of exporting two of our most dispiriting national faults to the poor unsuspecting Afghans: mistaking large, ugly buildings for social and cultural progress, and letting government organs off the hook to be both ineffective and invasive at the same time through a naive and unquestioning certainty that a Canadian would never call a spade anything other than a spade. These are perhaps reasons as   good as any not to become involved in the foreign adventurism of our friends and neighbors. 

In any case, here is my (modest) eight-point plan for Canada and Afghanistan - because it can't be worse than Peter Mackay's: 

1) immediately make it clear to the Canadian public that as long as Canadian personnel of any stripe remain in Afghanistan, they will be at some physical risk, and point out that the only honorable way to mitigate that risk is to improve conditions in Afghanistan proper; 

2) stop whining about how the Europeans aren't pulling their weight, and let some of our astonishingly talented diplomats take the lead in aggressively courting allies, NATO and otherwise, in forging a common voice for intervenors in Afghanistan; 

3) find a neutral country (Brazil, let's say) to act as a common mediator between the Afghan government, the northern warlords, and the Taliban to forge a stable political settlement -- point out to all parties that the only way NATO countries will have the stamina to continue operations is if all parties can overcome their differences in the name of their own self-interest (namely, a place in the future of running Afghanistan), and suggest that NATO's unhappy involvement in what everyone can see is an ill-conceived neocolonialist boondoggle would be brought to a much swifter conclusion if everyone played nice;

4) agitate with vigor for a strong UN Special Representative and a centralized reconstruction plan to adequately and fairly disburse international money and resources across the country not merely to build things, but also fund the Afghan people and their work;

5) insist on recruiting the myriad entrepreneurs, NGOs and small business owners who are doing their best to revive Afghan trade and civil society into the redevelopment process to achieve something from the ground up - and that includes poppy producers who could be convinced to sell their plants for morphine, not opium;

6) host a regional conference on Afghanistan to enlist, cajole or impress regional states into participating, or at least tacitly endorsing, the plan; 

7) insist that these various measures be tied to continued, and possibly expanded, Canadian troop, diplomatic and personnel deployment; and

8) stop "selling" the mission domestically as though it's a used Honda Civic, and instead present Canadians with this broad international progress in Afghanistan with Canada at its head. 

This is the sort of thing that might lead people to believe Canada had an independent, muscular foreign policy, or, perish the thought, a global "leadership role." Of course, leadership is only accomplished through intelligence, courage, energy, compassion, and the willingness to take a risk or two, not qualities the Harper government likes its dependents to display. (Leadership, at least on the world stage, also requires foreign ministers who have a clue about their lack of credibility on foreign things, but we won't go there). Nor does the government like to really think to the long-term, at least not on constructive matters - and that's another thing holding Canada's Afghanistan policy back.  If we as a country are unwilling to undertake the many kinds of work - financial, diplomatic, social, and military  - that will help our fellows in other parts of the world, let's at least stop being hypocrites about our own parochial narrow-mindedness.

In short, please Stephen, if you're going to try and mismanage Afghanistan as effectively as you have Canada, throw in the towel now- leave the rhetoric about the "North Star" to countries unafraid to will, act and lead in a cause that isn't the preservation and aggrandizement of their own political hide.


26 February 2008

I'm Liking Dion's New Look


23 February 2008

Amigos de Obama?

(Hat tip: Dani Rodrik) The Amigos' website.

"Sometimes, the boundless optimism of this country really gets to me."


17 February 2008

On the Lighter Side...


ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — A licence plate with nothing but the number “1” on it went for a record $14-million (U.S.) at a charity auction Saturday.

Saeed Khouri, a member of a wealthy Abu Dhabi family, wouldn't say how many automobiles he owned or which of them might carry the record-breaking single-digit plate.

“I bought it because it's the best number,” said Mr. Khouri, whose family made its fortune in real estate. “I bought it because I want to be the best in the world.”

"It's the best number"? Speaking of Abu Dhabi-related occurrences that read like Onion articles, NYU Abu Dhabi set to open in 2010...


Lost in Translation

It's not often that I feel adequately qualified to comment on items in the mainstream news media - although I don't usually let my better judgement stop me. But George Jonas' column in the National Post today is both sufficiently intimate to my sphere of life, and sufficiently offensive, to merit a little disquisition. 

Paul Wells has nicely pointed up how Jonas either misplaces or ignores the fact that David Naylor is very much on record opposing a boycott of Israeli universities. But what makes Jonas' piece so detestable is its more general factual laziness.

At a talk a couple of weeks ago on writing, Andrew Coyne spoke of the necessity of striving for "true sentences" transcending the muddled cliches, half-truths and conventions that are so tempting in their ease and so common in their use. But Jonas' piece isn't just muddled: it's ignorance piled on falsehood piled on prejudice like Pelion piled on Osa. Wells calls it "the weightlessness of conjecture" - I call it neglect so complete as to be malicious in effect if not in intent, disheartening from a journalist of Jonas' experience.

I understand that being provocative is a necessary evil in the newspaper business. I suspect the organizers of Israeli Apartheid Week would agree, at the very least, that being provocative is a necessary evil in the activism business as well. Because that's what "Israeli Apartheid Week," is about: provocation (and provocation on an international scale). 

At the level of propaganda, it's a calculated decision to tie the Palestinian cause to a notorious and universally condemned human indignity. All publicity, as they say, is good publicity, even if it sidesteps the historical record. As a historian, it's impossible not to say that apartheid as it was practiced in South Africa and the situation of the Palestinian people are different, in general and particulars. The term "Israeli Apartheid Week" is distracting, disingenuous, and incorrect on these grounds.  To say or think otherwise ignores the facts, just as denying the injustice in each case also ignores the facts. But that's neither here nor there to the odiousness of Jonas' piece.

If Jonas had taken a look at the University of Toronto's policy on recognized campus groups, he would perhaps have noted not only the key phrase, that "the essential 'value' of the University must remain that of preservation of freedom of enquiry and association," but also that the University's rule on recognizing campus group are almost painfully disinterested in political, cultural or moral orientations:  "Eligibility for recognition," the lingo goes, "should be assessed annually against ... 'technical' constitutional areas rather than ideological ones." This statement in itself is, of course, an inherently political position, in line with the University's general liberal pluralist conservatism. But it doesn't support Jonas' contention that U of T determines free speech by fiat. It would have been as easy for Jonas to track down this information as it would have been to access President Naylor's speech on academic boycotts. But...it didn't happen.

Fine. Sloppy. Except what comes next is worse. Instead of a meditation on the challenge of balancing academic "objectivity" with the subjective realities of human conduct and injustice (a challenge keeping the best minds busy, don't you fear), Jonas decides to accuse the University of an expedient racism motivated by cowardice: after all, says Jonas, "we know who are likely to riot, and it isn't the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies."

I wonder if it ever occurred to Jonas to call up the U of T organizers of "Israeli Apartheid Week" (there seem to be a number of people and groups involved, which seem to cross racial, gender, religious and class lines) and inquire whether any of their members were inclined to physical violence at St. George and Harbord streets? Or to mosey on down to Sidney Smith Hall and chat with some of the very earnest-looking people staffing the couple of tables there? Jonas could ask them if they wanted to start smashing windows - but perhaps he was writing figuratively. 

Except of course, "we" know exactly who Jonas expects to riot, especially when he accuses the U of T of "know[ing] which side [their] fatwa is buttered on…." Perhaps it's those "Muslim law students" and their ilk involved in a complaint against Maclean's magazine, whom Jonas seems to think go around calling their opponents "kafirs." "We" know these things because "we" can know what "they" are thinking, and what "their" collaborators -- the University and Dr. Naylor -- are thinking, without having to do anything so ambivalent as empirical research. Instead, "we" can "translate" their message as "we" see fit. Don't worry: as Marx suggests in The 18th Brumaire of Louis Napoleon, "they cannot represent themselves; they must be represented."

I have many problems with the University of Toronto and its constituent parts, but in my anecdotal experience the institution has always been scrupulous in its respect for the letter of its policies on student conduct and Canadian laws on free speech, and its concern for student safety -- if anything, too scrupulous regarding the latter. George Jonas hasn't done his homework. But Orientalists never do. 


16 February 2008

Japanese mobile game rewards players with real fish

Terrifying, on so many levels. 


14 February 2008

Oh, That's Why I Don't Care

I've been pondering why I'm basically indifferent to Clinton's billing as the first female president of the U.S. - why her being a woman, and were she elected how that might be "historically momentous" - doesn't factor at all into my thoughts on the campaign. Is it because I'm a bad feminist? (That's probably the case, but it's not why I don't care for this particular spin on her candidacy). Is it because affectively though not rationally I am excited about electing (or rather, watching the election of) the first black president? (I am, but that still doesn't explain my indifference to Clinton's historical potential). Is it because her history, image, and policies turn me off her campaign? (To a slight degree, I am turned off her campaign, but again this doesn't answer the question of why her historical potential is not a factor).

None of these is the case; rather, it seems to me that viewed outside the lens of American exceptionalism, patriotism, group-self-love, etc., a Clinton presidency would not be historically unprecedented by any means. America has been dreadfully slow at electing its first female head of state, and may have to wait decades to do so - this is unsurprising, as this country is otherwise so generally regressive/unprogressive. But America's peers - its social group, its "like-minded allies," its cultural brethren, whatever you want to call them - have already taken this historically "unprecedented" turn. The UK had Thatcher in 1979, Germany elected Merkel in 2005. Even prudish Canada gloried in the brief rule of Kim Campbell in 1993.*

In other words, "it's been done." Outside the parochial lens of U.S. domestic politics, electing female leaders is rare but certainly not unprecedented. But to my knowledge, no Western liberal democracy has been headed by a member of a visible minority ethnic or racial group, much less a historically oppressed one. Maybe that's why I have an irrational affective positive disposition towards Barack Obama. Please correct me if I'm wrong, because then maybe I can approach this election with cool calculation (or at least then we can debate about what counts as "Western," "liberal," and "democratic" as I try to cling to my irrational position...).

*On top of this, Among other Western liberal democracies, current and past female heads of government have led Bulgaria, Finland, France, Lithuania (as a transitional democracy), Macedonia, New Zealand, Norway, Poland (also arguably transitional), and Portugal. Heads of state excluding monarchs: Iceland (1980-1996), Ireland (1990-1997), Latvia (1999-2007), and latecomer-to-full-suffrage Switzerland (2003 onward).


08 February 2008

A New Arms Race?

Or rhetoric for domestic consumption (in Russia and abroad)?

The BBC reports that Putin, addressing his advisory state council, declared in response to NATO missile-defense deployments, that "It is already clear that a new phase in the arms race is unfolding in the world."

Time for a brief reality check / hastily-researched figures and back of the envelope calculations...

PPP-adjusted GDPs: United States, $13,860,000,000,000; Russia, $2,076,000,000,000 (CIA factbook).

Looking just at the U.S. and Russia, the former in 2005 spent 4.06% of its GDP on the military. Russia's numbers are not known, but making a brief calculation it would have to spend roughly $562.7 PPP-adjusted US dollars, or 27% of its GDP annually, to match U.S. defense spending. Since it has a fair degree of catchup to do in order to, as Putin implied, restart an arms race in hi-tech weaponry, it would probably have to spend considerably more. According to globalsecurity.org, Russia budgeted in 2006 $22.3 billion (non-PPP adjusted) for its military, already a 23% increase on the previous year. A new armaments program for the years 2007-2015 was also announced in the sum of $186 billion - but it's unclear whether how much of this sum would be on top of annual military spending. In brief, Russia doesn't seem to be the best-positioned candidate for an "arms race" with the United States - even before counting the other NATO countries.

Of course, both countries continue to possess the ability to destroy the world several times over, which leads to the question: what exactly would they be racing toward?

My half-baked attempt to rationally assess the likelihood of Putin's remarks being meant seriously, of course, falls easy victim to the observation that there doesn't need to be a rational basis or real material capability in order to construct an "arms race," as attested to by the late Cold War from, say, 1970 onward.


07 February 2008

Mitt's Gems

As you all know, Mitt Romney rode into the sunset today, withdrawing from the presidential race in his address to the Conservative Political Action Committee. (Incidentally, this makes it almost certain, bar an improbable Huckabee surge or a shock Bloomberg independent victory, that a Senator will become president for the first time since Richard Nixon). It was a helluva speech, says the BBC. And while I agree, it's probably for different reasons. I just want to point out a few highlights which, if representative of this country I'm currently exiled to, are... terrifying. (Full transcript here.)

Government and culture

The threat to our culture comes from within. The 1960’s welfare programs created a culture of poverty. Some think we won that battle when we reformed welfare, but the liberals haven’t given up. At every turn, they try to substitute government largesse for individual responsibility. They fight to strip work requirements from welfare, to put more people on Medicaid, and to remove more and more people from having to pay any income tax whatsoever. Dependency is death to initiative, risk-taking and opportunity. Dependency is a culture-killing drug—we have got to fight it like the poison it is!

Won't somebody think of the children?
The attack on faith and religion is no less relentless. And tolerance for pornography—even celebration of it—and sexual promiscuity, combined with the twisted incentives of government welfare programs have led to today’s grim realities: 68% of African American children are born out-of-wedlock, 45% of Hispanic children, and 25% of White children. How much harder it is for these children to succeed in school—and in life. A nation built on the principles of the founding fathers cannot long stand when its children are raised without fathers in the home.

The development of a child is enhanced by having a mother and father. Such a family is the ideal for the future of the child and for the strength of a nation. I wonder how it is that unelected judges, like some in my state of Massachusetts, are so unaware of this reality, so oblivious to the millennia of recorded history. It is time for the people of America to fortify marriage through constitutional amendment, so that liberal judges cannot continue to attack it!

Europe: going to hell
Europe is facing a demographic disaster. That is the inevitable product of weakened faith in the Creator, failed families, disrespect for the sanctity of human life and eroded morality.

Romney on hegemonic transition, the threat from "Asia or China"
China and Asia are emerging from centuries of poverty. Their people are plentiful, innovative, and ambitious. If we do not change course, Asia or China will pass us by as the economic superpower, just as we passed England and France during the last century.

A new axis of evil?
America must never be held hostage by the likes of Putin, Chavez, and Ahmendinejad.

Standard jingoist fare
And finally, let’s consider the greatest challenge facing America—and facing the entire civilized world: the threat of violent, radical Jihad. In one wing of the world of Islam, there is a conviction that all governments should be destroyed and replaced by a religious caliphate. These Jihadists will battle any form of democracy—to them, democracy is blasphemous for it says that citizens, not God shape the law. They find the idea of human equality to be offensive. They hate everything we believe about freedom just as we hate everything they believe about radical Jihad.

And the real reason for dropping out: he doesn't want to abet terrorists
If I fight on in my campaign, all the way to the convention, I would forestall the launch of a national campaign and make it more likely that Senator Clinton or Obama would win. And in this time of war, I simply cannot let my campaign, be a part of aiding a surrender to terror.


06 February 2008

05 February 2008


  1. Far-right Republicans coalesce around Huckabee; Romney bows out. Huckabee and McCain go for a few rounds, keeping some media attention while the Democrats slug it out in the real fight.
  2. Clinton wins what the mainstream media have identified as the big contests of the night (Missouri, New Jersey, and California); this becomes the major news item even if Obama takes the lion's share of the remaining contested states.
    [EDIT: Missouri's now swinging for Obama - he's a few thousand votes ahead with 97% reporting!]


Early Going

Just a couple observations:

  1. A couple races that were supposed to be close for Obama according to exit polls (MO, MA and NJ specifically) are looking pretty lopsided so far (Bradley effect, anyone?).
  2. Edwards, whose campaign is over but officially "suspended," is having an impact in places like Tennessee (he's currently polling 10%), Missouri (6%), and Oklahoma (12%). I know basically nothing about American politics and voting behavior, but this tells me that a good chunk of voters in these states are (a) too stupid, (b) too pig-headed, and/or (c) too racist and sexist to vote for a candidate that's still actually running.
    [EDIT: Obviously, part of the Edwards factor must be advance balloting, but still at 11:00 PM, he's hanging at 10% in OK (99% reporting) and 5% in TN (80%) ...]


04 February 2008


From the Globe and Mail, portrait of a leader who is definitely pursuing nuclear weapons technology:



Yes, Alex Herman et al.'s book is in press. Let the publishing dynasty begin!

Kickstart - How Successful Canadians Got Started

See their website, and blog. The book is available for pre-order online from major booksellers worldwide.
Barnes and Noble
Amazon UK
Amazon USA

Also, Canadian Trade Remedy Law and Practice.