Sunday, August 31, 2008

The consequences of Stephen Harper.


What everyone has been missing.

Douche, turd, control-freak, automaton, 'neo-con': at some point or another, I have heard our current PM, Steven Harper, described with those words. On the one hand, Harper should feel quite flattered: even if people think he is douche, at least there is no one out there questioning his intelligence. On the other, it is troubling that despite the (seemingly) constant image-campaigning by the PMO, he is still thought of in less-than-flattering terms by Canadians. However, it is Harper's intellect that is the most under-analyzed aspect of the government. The Cons have had a tough summer, and I seriously doubt that anyone will disagree with that statement. After being "Cuillard-ed" in the spring, they have had to watch the economy slowly slink towards recession. On top of that, they have to had to plan a (real) response to the new Lib platform (I'll cover that one in another post). Then there is also the increasingly unpopular war in Afghanistan, and the (ridiculous) furor over the Order nomination of Morghentaller and the (equally ridiculous) furor over Bill C-61.

Personally, I sympathize with Harper the control-freak. After all, just look at the hand the guy has been dealt in terms of a government. His party was (at first) so entrenched in "opposition mode" that they came across as amateurish during question periods, when the most common response was to blame the Liberals for being corrupt or incompetent. Especially Baird "the Bulldog." With morons sitting in your cabinet, how are you supposed to come across as a credible GOVERNMENT? You micro-manage. First, you kick McKay to the sidelines because the only accomplishments of note that he could list (after holding a variety of portfolios and party positions) was being chummy with Condy Rice and making inappropriate remarks about his "dog." Besides, the guy is a douche who can't be trusted to keep his promises.

Then, you get the rest of the party to SHUT THE HELL UP. Baird the Bulldog can't be kept quiet, but you make damn sure that everyone else does not say a peep to the press because they are categorically so unreliable. Harper has recently received some flak from the liberals for his “culture of secrecy.” It’s not a culture of secrecy, it is a culture of “my guys are too stupid to talk to the press so I tell them to SHUT THE HELL UP.”

SO, after a couple of years of micro-managing, Harper finally has a government that can argue about policy and governing and not the usual fall-back of party-politics. Unfortunately for the Cons, whatever momentum they have been trying to gain is stymied by the Liberals: the official opposition is a very well-experience political machine, and they know how to make life a living hell by bringing party-politics to the centre-stage of media coverage. Committee this, committee that. This leaves you with two options: let your government get embroiled in the myriad lawsuits and committee inquiries that are threaten to derail your ability to govern; or, you seek a majority government in a snap election.

The Catch-22 is immediately apparent: the first option is an enshrined process integral to democratic society, seeking to avoid or subvert it is anti-democratic. On the other hand, Harper promised that elections would start being held on a regular schedule, so that the nation is not disrupted by opportunistic elections. Since Parliament was dissolved today, Harper loses any integrity he could pretend to have earned by going back on a promise (and bill) his government made. He deserves credit for being pragmatic, but certainly does not deserve votes.

Basically, I don't doubt that Harper is a capable leader. He may even be one of the best PMs this country has ever had. His government is simply plagued with an un-sellable brand, and a bunch of douches.

Unfortunately for Harper, though, I still think that he is a douche because his government is devoted to a program that is completely opposite to what I think Canada needs. Unfortunately, I feel that I am in the extreme minority of Canadians who understand this fundamental point.

Allow me to elaborate. Glance through any of the myriad news-sources that you can scan online, and you will come across a variety of mouth-pieces that make sly and vague remarks about how the Cons platform is "whatever it may be"; or, they try to make direct comparisons to the 'neo-cons' of the Bush administration. Both perspectives are missing an essential point. The current Conservative government DOES have a platform, and saying that it is similar to the neo-con politics of the Bush administration completely misses the mark.

Let's pull a quote from a recent Globe and Mail article:
Speaking to a Montreal business crowd, Mr. Harper launched his harshest attack on the Liberal policy, saying it would concentrate money and power in Ottawa.
“I tell you that this new tax on carbon is going to destroy all that our government has built in the last two and a half years,” the Conservative Leader said.
Waitaminute. What does it mean that everything achieved in the last two years is threatened by concentrating money and power in Ottawa?

Harper's platform, really more of a program, is one of de-federalisation. After all, what sort of an idiot cuts taxes AND raises spending? The sort of idiot that wants any (future) federal government's spending to be so tight that they can't meddle in regional affairs by holding a massive coffer of cash. That's right. Remember: ‘Stevie-H’ entered national politics as an advisor for Ross Perot and the Reform Party. A regional party devoted to preserving REGIONAL (in this case, Western) interests. In many ways they were just like the Bloc, but without the annoyingly puerile sabre-rattling of the Quebec separatists. From what I understand of the Reform agenda, they just wanted to make sure that the West (mostly Alberta) was protected from policy sent out by Ottawa.

Harper's government is simply actualizing this agenda. This is why, when I read the news, one can connect several seemingly independent events to form a single constellation of de-federalisation: recognizing Quebec as a "distinct society"; the listeriosis outbreak in Ontario; Arts Funding cuts; rejecting the goals outlined in the Kyoto accord; and, increasing military spending.

A distinct society?

The recognition of Quebec's "distinct" status should require little explanation: it is simply an instance of the federal government acknowledging (without submitting) regional interests. By giving French-Canadians recognition for being a distinct society, however, Harpo can accomplish two things: gain political capital and set the stage for more regional recognition. The Cons want to gain votes in Quebec, and the only way that they can do it is by showing that a (supposedly) federalist party can promote Quebecois identity more successfully than the Bloc. Since the Cons expect to be locked out of the urban areas (liberal strongholds) they will have to fight in the predominately Bloc battle-grounds.

Furthermore, recognizing Quebec’s distinct society easily paves the way to recognizing any number of other “distinct” societies. Why not also recognize the Gàidhealtachd in Eastern Canada and Eastern Ontario as distinct societies as well?

In my opinion, when you start recognizing “distinct” groups, especially in response to regional urging, you (as a Government) are setting a stage that will make permissible new means of exclusion.

Tainted Meat

The listeriosis outbreak (sandwich-gate?) highlights a program of eliminating federal-level inspectors in favour of local-level (corporate) ones. In the case of the tainted sandwich meats, we are seeing the detrimental result of limiting the federal government's ability to impact business.

It is one thing to remove strings that may impede business. Unfortunately, it is something else for a government to neglect its duty to protect its citizens from harm. Unfortunately, in Ontario, there are still strong memories associated with another (conservative) government’s cuts to inspector funding: Walkerton.

The Kyoto Accords

The Kyoto Accords, and the general discussion (argument) about environmental policy is certainly a touchy issue today. Here in Ontario and the rest of the Eastern Provinces, most people have the opinion that people living out West don't care about the environment, and don't mind the massive cloud of death sitting over northern Alberta. Why else would the government be so opposed to the accords, rather than taking the Liberal strategy of delay and re-write? Well, one of my best friends is from Calgary, and I have also had the opportunity to meet many people from Alberta. I left all of those experiences with the impression that the environment is very much a real problem on their minds. However, it was also quite apparent to me that they are thoroughly opposed to the Ottawa-East dictating how they should approach the problem. Based on these experiences, I doubt that Harper simply "does not care" about the environment in the way that many say he does. Rather, I think that he would rather let individual regions determine their own response.

When (the premiers of ON and Quebec) McGuinty and Charest announced plans to adopt carbon taxes, and their own commitment to protecting forests, the government was (perhaps uncharacteristically) demure in its response. Despite what Harper and his cronies may think, they will not try to force a regional leader's hand to follow the federal plan (cap-and-trade being the most recent suggestion). Of course, there are exceptions to this. Jim Flaherty (that moron among imbeciles) decided to let his own politics (as a Conservative) influence his reaction to the news of the Ontario economic slow-down. He decided to play Conservative against Liberal in that debate, and the Conservatives are going to lose ground in Ontario because of it. However, that instance is, to me, a failure by Harper to yank the leash in time.

Canadian Smut

At first, when I heard about Canadian actors and filmmakers lamenting the number of cuts made to Arts funding, I laughed and thought “if you can’t get enough private funding it is because your project is a bad idea.”

Of course, the issue is much more complex, and much more politically motivated. When your government is threatened by impending deficits, you have to cut money from somewhere. Well, why not strike two birds with one stone and cut money to Arts Funding?

On the one hand, the arts grants were established to help to promote Canadian identity. Of course, this assumes that everyone in Canada agrees on what the council that awards the grants determines to be “Canadian.” I have a strong feeling that when it “Bubbles Galore,” Canada’s “XX” film was revealed to have been produced through funding from the federal government, some of the more “conservative” elements in Canada (nationwide) may have felt slightly off-put by the insinuation that the film was in some way “Canadian.” Similarly so for many other productions that have benefited from the same funding system.

Hmmm…so, how does this relate to a program of “defederalisation?” Well, in my opinion, I would hazard a guess that a politician interested in representing regional interests would want to reassure voters that the federal government will no longer be giving tax dollars to film makers that present content that [voters] would find offensive. Basically, Harper wants to make sure that (Ottawa) the federal government cannot force a particular (disagreeable?) “Canadian image” on the Canadian people.

In some ways, the cuts to funding are similar to cuts to business inspectors. This is a program of removing the government’s involvement in the arts. I doubt that the intention is to stifle artistic development in Canada. Of course, this government’s decisions have proven to be nothing if not short-sighted (re: the Cadman Affair).

Arming the Army of the Republicans?

My final instantiation of the Conservative plan is, admittedly, a bit of a stretch. After all, if I am insinuating that Harper is so strongly in favour of regionalism why would his government promote a strong (central) military? This has more to do with the fundamentals of government’s responsibility than a particular agenda of de-federalisation. One of a government's responsibilities is the defense of the state. Pumping money into the army satisfies his government's desire to impress upon the international community a Canadian commitment to self-determination. Basically, I am betting that Harper has some advisor who has told him that the reason that other leaders don't take him seriously is because Canada lacks military muscle.

Or, maybe not.

So, the real problem with Stephen Harper? He believes that it is Canada's best interest to have a weak federal government. In a follow-up post, I will discuss why this view is erroneous.

UPDATE: added quote from recent Globe and Mail article.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Why the Olympics need a new category of competition.

A couple of weeks ago I was watching Michael Phelps win his eighth gold medal in the men's 4x100 medley relay. It was a spectacular race, and it certainly reaffirmed my conviction that Phelps is probably the best human being to ever (purposefully or not) enter the water. Even if anthropologists find some failed version of the human species that had webbed fingers and ridiculously short legs, I doubt that they could compete with Phelps.

Of course, my enjoyment of the event was slightly tarnished by the presence of my...bombastic...friend and colleague, Dr. Sauce. The good Doctor expressed his jaded opinion that the Olympics are (And I quote) ridiculous because it is ultimately about rewarding the "best cheater." He went on to express his desire to see a "narc-Olympic" games where the winners are the pharmaceutical companies that make humans do the most ridiculous things.

Usually, I roll my eyes and laugh when Dr. Sauce gets talking this way, after which I express my (contradictory) opinion, and we get more drunk and forget what we were talking about.

-Before continuing, I want to make it clear that I enjoy sports and admire athletes that devote themselves to their event to the exclusion of a normal life.-

However, this time I could not quite let the good doctor rant without prodding his statement. So I happened to ask him: "why ever for?"

His response was interesting and illuminating: "Well why not just come right out and let everyone do the drugs that they are pretending not to do?"

Rather than take my usual contrary stance, I found that I (partially) agreed. Of course, there was a problem with his opinion. As I explained (and I admit I may be full of the bull$%!^ herein), performance enhancing drugs are banned from the Olympics because they are supposed to be accessible from any level of competition. Let's suggest that there is club swimmer somewhere in Manitoba. Depending on her competition times, she can become eligible to compete at the regional and then the nation level. Pending her results, she could represent Canada at the upcoming Olympiad.

However, if the Olympics were (overtly) just about who has the best drug regime, then casual and amateur athletes could never hope to compete at anything more than the local/club level. Unless they were willing to absorb the risks associated with taking performance enhancing drugs, there is no way to compete with 'professionals' that have been recruited into professional programs. This is why there had been a ban on professional athletes in Olympic hockey and basketball. (IMHO) The ban was lifted because the IOC (rightly) decided that programs outside of N. America and Europe could produce teams that can compete with the best Russian, European, and N. American squads (in hockey), and the best U.S. teams (in basketball). Of course, baseball was still limited to amateur athletes (before being canned this year).

So, the IOC tries to keep the games "clean" because they are supposed to be accessible. Basically, a swimmer in Saudi Arabia should be able to compete on equal footing with a swimmer from France or Australia.

Better yet, the individual sprints are true marker of just how accessible the Olympics can be. How much skill does it take to run 100m? None. How much work does it take to run it in under 10 seconds? That depends on your training. If the Olympics were just simply a drug regime, there is no point to allowing many of the world's nations to enter competition, since the wealthiest programs would make it impossible for the poorest to compete. Without drugs, it is about training, genetic predispositions, and more training. In essence it should be fair.

Of course after mentioning the 100m sprint I have to admit that the Olympics are also supposed to be a showcase for the expansion of (what is possible regarding) human potential. Every Olympiad, the 100m time decrease evermore below the 10-sec mark (in the men's event). It is on this point that I accept that Dr. Sauce is right. If we want to showcase (and to push) the limits of human performance, why don't we give the athletes every possible advantage?

I absolutely think that it would be fantastic to "see" a human being break the 9-sec barrier in the 100m. However, I seriously doubt that is possible without performance enhancing drugs (and without surgery). In another 50 or 60 years? Maybe. But not until then. With performance enhancing drugs? Why not?

I would like to recommend a "games" from my conversation with the doctor: "athletes" compete in the typical blue-ribbon Olympic events. However, medals are not gained by performance alone. Rather, judges (a mix of physicians, physiologists and ethicist(s)) determine how detrimental to health an athlete's regime is (in the long run), and award handicaps to the athletes that adopt a supplement regime that favours performance over health. So, a sprinter that takes some performance-enhancing supplements that will eventually render him dead from a bloated and weakened heart will be awarded a lower "score" than one that adopts a regime that only improves muscle-twitch with no long-term affects.

Basically, what I would want to watch is a Games where human potential is pushed beyond its current limits. However, the public can rejoice in these Games because they will showcase technologies that may one day improve their own lives. Dr. Sauce should be applauded for his desire to see a "NarcOlympics."

However, having said that, I believe that the current Olympic philosophy, of keeping the games accessible, should be encouraged and preserved. Winning a Gold Medal, after four years of hard training, is an award that should never be tarnished.

Simply put, I think that we should create a venue for those athletes that want to push the human speed limit, or the amount that a body can dead-lift.

Of course, I may be wrong about the Olympic philosophy (I know I neglected to mention all of that nationalist crap about sportsmanship around the world), so my vision may be worth nothing.


Wednesday, August 27, 2008

A Busy Summer, and "On Being Too Important to Update My Blog (?)"

Well...I really have no excuse this time. I have spent much (most) of the summer in front of computer screens, as I have somehow found myself working my butt off.

For what? I'm not sure. Nonetheless, I have managed to not once update my blog. All of a sudden, it is the end of August and I wonder what I have been doing.

SWMBO thinks that I am a loser and would rather work than socialize. Then again, her opinion of me changed after I announced that we are going to go to Chicago in September. Now, her faith in the Captain and President-for-Life of Team Awesome is magically restored.

Aside from work, lots of stuff has been happening. I am expecting to write some posts on:
  • Harper's Subversive Strategies (and why Canadian Historians will agree with me);
  • The Green Shift- great Tax reform, poor environmental action plan;
  • Why OLD (text)books should be digitized;
  • Team Awesome's Emissary to Australia;
  • Delusions of Fitness (WiiFit after three months);
  • What I love about jogging;
  • And, how to make a better Olympiad.

Updates are forthcoming. To my (one or two) readers, the long wait is near an end!