Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Do You Go to Carleton University? Do You Want a Job?

If there are any readers from Carleton University, I will be participating in a Q&A session tonight.  I believe the event is for students only.  Here are the details:

Porter Hall
6:00 pm - 7:00 pm  -  Q&A session
7:00 pm - 8:00 pm  -  Networking

There will be five of us on the panel.  I don't know who the other panelists are, but, no doubt, they will be useful resources for anyone in attendance.

I'm a little under the weather, so I may not stick around for the Networking session afterward, but if you see me and would like to chat, just let me know.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Vaccines Are Always Good. Always.

The National Post reports that the seasonal flu shot may raise the risk of H1N1.  This comes from an unpublished study, and hasn't been confirmed, but it's still interesting.

Of course, you'll find no mention of this on The Ottawa Citizen's H1N1 site.  They're bastions of journalistic integrity and they know better than you what's best.  Obviously, the reporters know that this medical research is bunk.

They couldn't just be ignoring a story that doesn't fit with their editorial stance, could they?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Dude, Where's My Semi-colon?

It's National Punctuation Day.

Fine, the guy who invented it is from California, so maybe it's not our National Punctuation Day.  Nonetheless, it'd be worthwhile for Canadians to employ proper punctuation (and grammar and syntax).

For those wondering, this is CG&A's approved style guide.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Apparently, Health Care Workers are Bad People, Too

Recently, The Ottawa Citizen has been publishing columns in which they call those who are skeptical of the (as of yet undefined) H1N1 vaccine misguided and playing politics, and selfish.  We are, pace The Citizen, bad people.

Well, according to the... Ottawa Citizenhealth care workers are bad people, too:
Chocolate bars, lottery tickets and free lunches.

Many incentives have been tried in hopes of persuading Ottawa hospital workers and others on the front lines to get seasonal flu vaccines, but the numbers who roll up the sleeves of their uniforms stay stubbornly around 50 per cent.

This has public health experts worried and wondering what tack to take this year. Vaccinating Ottawa's health workers to protect patients and also keep hospitals and clinics running is the cornerstone of plans for coping with the H1N1 virus. After all, if doctors, nurses and other health-care workers fall sick at the peak of the pandemic, it could hobble the local health-care system.

Yet many strategies to encourage vaccination have failed. And making shots mandatory will meet with huge resistance, it's predicted.
Thankfully, Premier Dalton McGuinty and unions won't let anyone mandate vaccinations.  (Yes, I am commending McGuinty and unions.  Yes, I hear four sets of hooves.)

Nonetheless, let's look at the ways that health officials are trying to entice workers to get vaccinated: bribery.  And they're not just bribing individuals; they're trying to create pressure within departments to coerce everyone into getting vaccinated.  As a former HR professional, that sounds like creating a hostile work environment.  That's harassment.

Of course, the article does mention a novel approach to increasing the vaccination rate: explaining to people why it's safe.  If health officials will address the issue honestly and in good faith, maybe more of us will be convinced.

Or they could keep threatening people's jobs.

Apparently, I'm an *sshole

Speaking of H1N1 vaccinations, here's an editorial from today's Ottawa Citizen:
With a second wave of H1N1 flu on the doorstep, Canadian public health officials face a serious stumbling block in their battle to contain the coming pandemic: the anti-vaccine movement.

People who refuse to be vaccinated -- because they have misguided medical fears or because they're making a quasi-political statement against the scientific "establishment" -- could derail progress aimed at reducing the effects of this disease, the result being that a lot of people could get seriously ill and die.
 This editorial is quite a piece of work.  Apparently, we're either misguided or we care more about political statements than we do our health if we're a little worried about the shady process that has quickly brought this vaccine (whichever version and dosage they wind up using) to market.  I guess such judgementalism even applies when it is doctors expressing concern.

This editorial is a stunning bit of disorganized rhetoric.  They acknowledge that there are reasonable concerns, but then go on to dismiss them out of hand.  They conflate anyone with any skepticism with people who were duped by a bogus study about autism, then gloss over the concerns of a Guillaume-Barre outbreak in the 1970s.

And let's not forget, this is the newspaper that scrubbed from an article any concerns about the vaccine.  Far from assuaging concerns of this vaccine, The Citizen has continued to show that supporters of vaccination are unwilling to actually address the concerns about this particular vaccine.

With each breatheless story of the anti-science, anti-reason, anti-vaccinationists (as if that's a word), I become more and more entrenched in my skepticism.  If advocates of this vaccine would actually address the reasonable concerns that some of us have, I'd be much more open to getting it.

As it stands, editorials like this do a disservice to the public.  It's quite likely that this vaccine could save many lives, but this take-it-because-we-say-so attitude will not save anyone.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The League of Foreign Policy Experts

Scott H. Payne has started a more thorough discussion on the (potential) debate on Canadian foreign policy and the war in Afghanistan.  His post is thorough and thoughtful, as are the comments.

Oh, and I made a minor contribution as well.  Y'all should head over there and play along.

...and no one is allowed to type the words "muscular intervention" on this blog.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

When Soldiers Try to Do the Right Thing

Less than a month ago, William L. Calley apologized for his role in the My Lai massacre.  For those who don't know, the My Lai massacre was the slaughter of hundreds of unarmed South Vietnamese people on March 16, 1968 by U.S. soldiers.  It's pretty much the iconic representation of military abuse of civilians.

In 1993, the Canadian Airborne Regiment was struck with scandal when we learned of the torture and murder of a Somali teenager (you can read about it here, but there are graphic photos).  It took a while, but eventually the soldiers involved were brought to justice.  The Airborne Regiment was soon disbanded, but the shame lingered.

We know of the Moscow theatre hostage crisis, Abu Ghraid prisoner abuse, the Katyn massacre, and comfort women.  Military scandal and abuse is nothing new.  However, the impression of the general public can be that the military generally (or regularly) tries to hide these scandals.  Soldiers circle the wagons, and there's a code that precludes them from talking.  It's not necessarily fair, but it is what it is.

So, what do we do when soldiers come forward and tell us that innocent boys are being raped?  Why, we spend a few months investigating and decide that there's nothing to worry about:
Although it was acknowledged among Canadian troops and some military police that Afghan security personnel were sexually abusing children, investigators took just 11 weeks to determine there was nothing to the concerns raised by a soldier who said he witnessed such an incident, according to Defence Department records.

The Canadian Forces National Investigation Service decided not to send any of its investigative team to Afghanistan but came to an initial determination in October 2008 that there was little to a soldier’s claim he had seen two Afghans sodomizing a young boy at a Canadian installation outside Kandahar.
Why are we in Afghanistan if we're just going to be complicit in child rape?  If investigators are going to be so dismissive, we may as well just get out now.  We obviously don't have the best interests of the Afghani people in mind.  Let's pull out and investigate these investigators.

And good for the NDP and Liberals for holding the Tories' feet to the fire.

A 5% Sales Tax is Just Not Enough, Dagnabbit!

At ThePolitic, I make the argument for increasing the GST.  Here's a tease:
Consumption-based taxation leads to fewer market distortions, encourages investment and simplifies tax remittance procedures, essentially freeing private individuals of all transaction costs related to paying taxes...
Our taxation is messed up.  It needs to be changed.  Feel free to pop over to ThePolitic and tell me how right or wrong I am.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

No Editorial Left Behind

The Ottawa Citizen seems to think that the mediocre results of standardized tests in Ottawa schools is both an argument for the status quo and an example of school choice - as if an inflexible oppressive system (where you are not allowed to go to the school of your choice, sometimes, even, when you live a few blocks away) is a bastion of dynamic educational experiences that students and parents can easily access.

It's bad enough that The Citizen comes out stumping for standardized tests - there is no evidence that provincially established testing does much good; standardized tests lead teachers to "teach to the test", and it also encourages them to cheat - but it is quite sad that they don't understand any of the objections to their beloved tests:
Strangely, some critics respond by questioning the value of standardized tests. Teachers' unions don't much like the tests, denouncing these instruments as political tools that waste classroom time and don't reflect student achievement. It could also be, one suspects, that unions don't like outsiders poking their noses into classrooms in an effort to find out if teachers are doing their jobs.

Most reasonable people and certainly most parents in Ontario support testing. Indeed, the tests, administered by the province's Education Quality and Accountability Office, are crucial to assessing how well Ontario's school system works and, when it doesn't, how to improve it. Without this information, policy- makers would be in the dark about much of what goes on in classrooms. Parents would have no way of knowing how the quality of education at their child's schools measures up relative to other schools.

Can anyone explain how The Citizen knows that "most reasonable people... support testing"?  Was there some sort of statistical analysis done or do they just think of those of us who disagree with their assertion to be, definitionally, unreasonable.

But really, that's not the worst of it.  Perhaps the worst of it is The Citizen's obsession with standardized testing data and their fetishizing it as some sort of market force that will drive school competition:
Parents and teachers devour this information. School boards realize that people are watching, and this creates a useful climate of competition.
Here's a little tip for the editors at The Citizen, if the only way to try to change schools is to move, there's no true choice and, thus, no real "competition".  If I had to sell my house in order to choose Coke over Pepsi, no one would praise the wonderful competition.

There is no evidence that standardized testing does anything but make students better at taking standardized tests.  If you want to make schools better (and I assume we all do), we need to offer students real competition.  We need to break down the artificial barriers that keep so many kids out of the schools of their choice.  We need to give kids real opportunities to learn and build better lives.

Or we could just obsess about tests.

Friday, September 18, 2009

The Boy Who Cried Wolf and the Children Who Just Cried

This is a sad story:
James Westcott, 66, admitted the young girl touched him during two separate incidents that occurred sometime between July and December 2008. He was arrested after the girl told her mother about what happened last December.
This aspect of the story is, potentially, just as sad:
A former elementary school teacher cleared of sexually molesting 11 of his young female students more than a decade ago pleaded guilty Wednesday to inviting a three-year-old girl to touch his penis.
In his decision dismissing the charges in 1999, Ontario Superior Court Justice Roydon Kealey said he found portions of the girls’ testimony “underwhelming” and there were too many “concerns and problems” surrounding it for him to convict Westcott.
Kealey noted that after “rumour and innuendo” began to spread through St. George’s about Westcott, several parents pressed their children to see if they had been touched. It was only under pressure from their parents, the judge noted, that the young girls made the allegations.
Now, I'm not going to sit here and claim that this conviction means that he was actually guilty of the allegations from 1999, but I think it's reasonable to start wondering.

In the 1980s, a wave of hysteria about child abuse hit North America.  Allegations of sexual abuse and satanic rituals being performed on children arose across America (and in Britain, too). Daycare Centres were shuttered, innocent people were jailed, and hundreds of children were put through the torment of recounting sadistic, and sometimes bizarre, sexual abuse.

Maybe some of it really happened.  A lot of it didn't.  Law enforcement, district attorneys, parents, psychologists and social scientists joined in on the hysteria; in fact, they stoked it.  Careers were made; reputations were manufactured; children were manipulated.  What may have started out as good intentions, turned into tragedy on a grand scale.

In 1993, Dateline NBC presented a story on GM trucks that were, allegedly, likely to explode during a side impact.  A couple from Atlanta had sued GM, as this was the cause of the death of their son, and, consequently, GM was in for a public shaming.  Unfortunately, it didn't go down that way.

Dateline decided, to make sure they got the best shot, they'd need to make the truck explode.  Days later, GM spoiled the party and exposed Dateline's deception.  Now, thanks to Dateline and their manipulation of tragedy, GM became the victims.  They won the PR war.

So, what to make of James Westcott?  Could overzealous prosecutors, police officers or psychologists have embellished the case against him in 1999 to try to ensure that they convicted a monster?  I can't say.  I did a search online, but I couldn't find any information from the 1999 case.  I hope this isn't what transpired, but still, the uncertainty just hangs there.

We worry so much about the boy who cried wolf.  We worry that false allegations of sexual abuse will have a chilling effect on future victims.  We worry that with each Crystal Gail Mangum and Tawana Brawney there will be more people who decide to suffer in silence, unwilling to come forward for fear of neither being believed nor being treated with sensitivity.

James Westcott could have been abusing a child in 1999, but hysteria could have so corrupted the case that the legal system had no choice but to turn him free.  Hysteria may have unleashed this monster on other children.

When we worry about the boy crying wolf, perhaps we should worry that the wolf is hurting someone else as the little boy cries out.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Broken Democracy Fallacy

"Just think of it as a $280-million stimulus package."

This is the wisdom of Bruce Cheadle in The Toronto Star when discussing the expense of a potential federal election.  Sadly, Mr. Cheadle even found an economist from the University of Toronto to support his claim.

But this is bubble gum economics.  It's lunacy to think that throwing hundreds of millions of dollars around on another election will have any sort of net economic benefit (and there's the rub, Mr. Cheadle's economist doesn't talk about a net benefit, just that there are benefits... but that didn't stop Mr. Cheadle from running with this ridiculous notion).

Of course, we have known for a long time that unnecessary expenses do not make society wealthier.

This is the sort of insight I would expect from a high school student, just beginning to learn about economics, just beginning to grasp the complexity and implications of economic policy and trying to apply them.  This is fine thinking for a novice, but it's just downright silly for a newspaper to publish.  Someone at The Star should have understood the concept of opportunity costs and nixed this pap when Mr. Cheadle first submitted it.

Canadian Election Open Thread, Piggyback Edition

Scott H. Payne of The League of Ordinary Gentlemen sent me an email today letting me know that he's starting up an open thread about potential issues for a potential Canadian election:
Given that Canadians are pretty election exhausted, it would make sense, to ensure we don’t have record low turn out in this election as we did in the last, that the whole event be girded by and predicated upon issues of substance that will galvanize Canadians to the polls and drive an important and meaningful discussion among the citizens of this country. The question, of course, is: what are those issues?
I have decided to do the same thing.  I don't get the same readership that The League does, but if anyone wants to comment here, go right ahead.  If you want to go over to Scott's post and comment, you should do that too; you can bet I'll be commenting there.

Alright, enough prologue.  Now go at it: if we go to the polls, what issues should we be debating?

(By the way, while you're there, poke around a bit.  I've started delving into some of their posts, new and old, and very much enjoying the writing, tone and relative civility on display.)

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


Rumour has it that Pavement (possibly the greatest indie/alternative/rock/slacker/pop band ever) might be reforming:
Er, so...things may just be getting a little brighter for the fans of either one of the most overrated or THE GREATEST indie rock band of all time, Pavement.
Though details are pretty sketchy at the moment, with plenty of talk of "reliable sources", the prospect currently up and floating through the airwaves and cables is that there's a reformation on the cards, or so reports Brooklyn Vegan.
This is, obviously, fantastic news.

...and a damn good excuse to post a Pavement video.

...and, hell, another one (with faux McLeod tartan miniskirt).

...and, for good measure, a live performance.

Risk/Reward, H1N1 Edition

The Ottawa Citizen has a story up about the H1N1 vaccine.  There's a lot of interesting stuff in it, but these two little tidbits kind of stuck out to me:

According to health care experts, the following groups of people are in particular need of the vaccine:
  • People under 65 with such chronic medical conditions as diabetes, heart disease, lung disease, cancer and immune-system problems;
  • Pregnant women; and
  • Children six months to under five years of age.
According to health care experts, the following groups of people are potentially the most vulnerable to the side effects of a hastily developed vaccine:
  • People under 65 with such chronic medical conditions as diabetes, heart disease, lung disease, cancer and immune-system problems;
  • Pregnant women; and
  • Children six months to under five years of age.
That's just great.  Rush a vaccine onto the market, and give it to those who are most susceptible to its side effects.

I just went back to the article in The Ottawa Citizen, and it has been changed so that it no longer mentions those most at risk of the dangers of the vaccine's side effects.  The Citizen has also scrubbed the article of any mention of the Guillaume-Barre outbreak in the 70s that was a result of a faulty vaccine, any explicit mention that so far H1N1 has a similar rate of occurrence to the regular flu, the fact that GlaxoSmithKline has not tested the actual dosage levels that the population will receive, and the fact that the vaccine is being boosted with untested levels of adjuvants - which, in and of themselves, pose potential health risks.

It's easy to claim that those of us who are wary of shoving chemicals into our veins are paranoid, crazy and free riders, benefiting from the vaccinations everyone else will receive to prevent an outbreak, but when there is this level of deception - not just failing to mention some details, but actively editing out the very real concerns of the vaccine - how are we to have any sense of security that we are being given a safe vaccine?

If those who support the mass vaccination really want us all to consent, why do they not address any of our reasonable concerns?

Updates: Inflated Prices, Jack Layton, Pork and Phil Collins

Hi all, here are a few things that have been going on in my little area of the blogosphere:

Barack Obama comes out against trade and prosperity, and I write about it at ThePolitic.  ("Inflated prices", get it?  Get it?)

There's some back and forth on government subsidies of hog farming at ThePolitic.  Sean Calder writes about it here.  I write some more here.  (Naturally, I couldn't be satisfied merely writing my own post, I had to comment on Sean's as well.  Please feel free to respond to one or both of them.)

Richard Albert is writing tidbits over at Politico.  He thinks the Republicans lack civility, but mainly lack leadership.  I am shocked - *shocked* - that someone would suggest that Michael Steele lacks leadership.

Inspired by a nice post at The League of Ordinary Gentlemen, I write about Jack Layton's prospects here.  Before I had a chance to finish my post, Sean Calder had already weighed in on Layton here.  You should read all the posts (and the very thoughtful comments on Scott H. Payne's post at The League), but here's the jist:  Scott and I see a big opportunity for Layton, and think that's a good thing (I think Scott likes it more than I do).  Sean thinks that Layton had a chance, but blew it (a position to which I am sympathetic).

As noted here, I am skeptical about Layton actually capitalizing on his opportunity.  So, to him, I dedicate this:

God I love this video.  Sometimes I desperately miss the 80s.

(I hope the missus doesn't mind, but tomorrow I may have to buy Against All Odds.)

Monday, September 14, 2009

Well, That Was Just a TV Show

The other day, I commented on an old Law & Order episode (from the great Chris Noth/Michael Moriarty days) and a Supreme Court case revolving around a Manitoba law that allows the govenment to force medical treatment on minors against their wishes or religious objections.  I wasn't particularly worried about the law itself (I'm pretty willing to trample the liberty of minors), but I was worried about the general trend of encroachment on liberty that it represented.

Today, we learn that Ottawa "public" schools are mulling over the idea of barring students who do not receive the H1N1 vaccine.  So, one particular level of government is thinking of essentially forcing students to receive this vaccine.  Does the vaccine work?  Doesn't matter.  Is the vaccine safe?  Doesn't matter.

This, from the story in The Ottawa Citizen, is particularly rich:
She [Gretchen Chapman, a psychology professor at Rutgers University who specializes in the study of decision-making around vaccines] talked about the need to balance altruism and selfishness, tempered by complex issues including concerns over how safe the swine flu vaccine will be and how serious any outbreak of H1N1 becomes.
How very thoughtful of Gretchen Chapman to allude to the "complex issues".  Of course, this is after she describes two factors of decision-making, altruism and selfishness.  I guess I am to take from this that those of us who are skeptical of rapidly produced vaccines for pandemics that have not yet materialized (remember SARS, Bird Flu, West Nile?) are selfish.  Well, I'll take that over the altruism of blindly subjecting my child to the chemical whims of the Leviathan.

I would like to get vaccinated.  I am quite prepared to believe that this new threat is real, unlike all the other bogeymen health officials have paraded in front of us the past few years.  I think receiving some sort of protection in the form of a vaccine would be great.

What I am skeptical about is a governmnet initiative that seems to rely a lot on "trust me, this is good for you" or "whether you trust me or not, I'm doing this to you".  There are a lot of issues that have been raised about potential H1N1 flu vaccines.  So far, I have heard nothing re-assuring from health officials or government officials.  Since when did the burden of proof fall on the individual to prevent an invasive government initiative?

Maybe some will think I am concern trolling, so let me make this clear.  At this point, I will not be getting the H1N1 vaccine.  I will not allow my daughter to be injected with it.  I find it abhorrent that certain government officials feel it is their job to force this treatment on people... and on children, especially.  If this vaccine is safe, let the scientists prove it.  Let them prove it according to established and accepted guidelines regarding clinical trials.  Until then, get your syringe away from me.

Of course, this would be less of an issue if we'd just get rid of government schools, or, at least, allow parents some more choice as to the school they send their child.  Funny how one form of government oppression might lead to another.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Law & Ordered

A few nights ago, I caught the end of a Law & Order re-run.  The episode presented the story of parents who "let" their child die by turning to the healing powers of prayer and eschewing intervention by doctors.  I remember watching this episode when it first came out.  I was a teenager, somewhat politically aware, and I knew that this reflected real-life stories (it was "ripped from the headlines", as Law & Order used to say), and I was pretty much horrified by the thought of parents who would let their children die.  I knew that adults had the right to refuse treatment, but I agreed with the show's protagonists that medical treatment should be forced upon children against their parent's wishes or religious beliefs (in a self-righteous twist, one of the attorneys is horrified to learn that the child asked for a doctor, but the parents would not give her one... oh those monsters).

Of course in real life, the monsters aren't so clearly defined.  In Manitoba, where they have a law that forces children and teenagers to submit to medical treatment, we saw the case of a 15-year old girl refusing a blood transfusion (she's a Jehovah's Witness), and the government forcing it on her.  So the province wasn't saving a child from her crazy religious parents (a la Law & Order), they were saving a teenager from her crazy religious self.

The case went to the Supreme Court; they said the law was constitutional, and upheld it 6 - 1.  Thank God for sanity... well, not your God, but someone's.

Okay, maybe that's not fair.  The Supreme Court doesn't judge the merits of the law; they just measure it against the Charter of Rights, and, thankfully, there's a lot more leeway when it comes to abridging a minor's freedom.  Anyway, I can't come out really strongly against this law; I can see the merits; I can also see the potential for abuse, and that is what we should be worried about.

In the episode of Law & Order, the District Attorneys begin judging the merits and depth of the parent's faith.  A crisis of faith, apparently, turns liberty into criminal activity.  If you're not Job, your beliefs are nothing.  Later in the episode, a doctor begins judging the efficacy of prayer.  So, I guess, even if you are Job, government "experts" can weigh in on the validity of your religion.  Who knew C. Everett Coop was a theologian?  (One should never forgo a C. Everett Coop reference.)

I'm not trying to conflate real life with TV, but the notion that we, the mere public, cannot be trusted to make decisions, and that we need some technocratic government official to decide what is best for us, is real life, and it is quite worrying.  We have seen, in North America, court decisions that force children into public schools because the judge does not like their religion; we have seen tribunal decisions that force pastors to publicly disavow their faith; we have seen a sheriff sent to the home of a birthing mother (at the direction of a doctor), to arrest her; we have seen courts force that mother into risky interventionist measures; we have seen schools force children to take mind-altering drugs; now, we have seen the Supreme Court of Canada allow the Manitoba legislature to negate the religious beliefs of a teenager and her parents.

...but that was just a TV show; I'm sure everything will be fine for you and me.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

One More Reason to be a Libertarian Rather than a Conservative

Lack of deference to the cops.

Granted that's not totally fair, but I'd be hard-pressed to name someone on "The Right" who polices the police to greater degree than Radley Balko (even though a lot of the commenters on this post seem to have an unhealthy dislike for cops).  Further, it has been my experience that conservatives seem more willing to be apologists for the police.  Sure, there are exceptions, and I'd generally be more willing to line up with conservatives than with readers of DailyKos on the topic, but still, libertarians seem to carry the least political baggage.

[UPDATE: I didn't actually realize I was making a pun with the blog title.  I duly apologize.  Though, in my defense, my father is the king of bad puns, and I assume punning is hereditary.]

Friday, September 11, 2009

Don't You Just Hate It When... write about something, then realize someone else did a much better job.  Here I am writing about libertarian paternalism, and here's Will Wilkinson writing about libertarian paternalism:
Individual choices made again and again create habits. Coordinated patterns of individual actions create norms. Choice architecture not only nudges us to do what we already want to do, but over time shapes what we want and shapes the social context and meaning of choice. By modifying the local frame of choice, the architect systematically affects the global frame of future choices. Suppose manipulating the context of micro-level individual choices eventually shifts political preferences. Do we think it is okay for the state to aim at producing a population with different political preferences, so that they will vote for the things that we, the choice architects, know will make them better off? (My critique of Social Security is that this is terribly illiberal and is exactly what happened.) Obviously this is completely pernicious and unacceptable. Which may be one reason why a chaotic ad hoc gallimaufry of completing choice frames, which add up to nothing in particular and tilts at no one set of values may be precisely what leaves us best off in the end.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The First Libertarian Question

Well, it's not the first one that was asked in response to my My Libertarian post, but it's the first one I'll address.  Richard Albert writes:
One question, though: Do you really think that subsidiarity serves libertarian interests?
I guess, again, it depends on what sort of libertarian one is (again, to borrow from the original post by Jim Manzi that started this whole thing).  I think Mr. Manzi makes a great argument for subsidiarity serving the needs of libertarianism-as-means.  When reading social science analyses of America (and, granted, I haven't read a whole lot), the results (whether the topic is healthcare, education, real estate development, crime, the rate of caesarean sections, etc) tend to vary greatly state-to-state.  And they often vary independent of geography (neighbouring states can have vastly different results).  Assuming people in each state are willing to observe and learn from the experiences of other states, this is that whole "laboratories of democracy" thing at work.  Of course, there's no guarantee that states will learn from each other, but we can certainly hope.

Of course, I might have the relationship backwards for that one.  Maybe the point is that libertarianism is serving the needs of subsidiarity and the utility of the laboratories of democracy.  Certainly, subsidiarity requires a certain amount of hands-off governing by the federal or higher level authority.  The greater the number of parameters and guidelines imposed on states by the feds, the fewer permutations that we'll see coming from the states.  (I know I tend to flip between Canadian and America examples, but the U.S. tends to be a better example of federalism and subsidiarity, so that's why I'm using them here.)

Of course, there's no real need for me to go over this stuff.  You can all just read it for yourself.  So, the question comes to, does subsidiarity serve the interests of libertarianism-as-jon?

When Richard first posed this question, my first reaction was to think that it likely doesn't.  I can certainly envision a world in which greater freedom for the local level government leads to greater restrictions on people by the local government.  If the feds say that anything goes, but then your city council attempts to run every part of your life, this isn't really a huge victory for libertarianism.  Further, the more levels of government you have, the greater the likelihood that one of them will stomp all over freedom.  (I say this as someone who lived in Ottawa when we had the local municipal government, regional council, the national capital commission, the provincial government and the federal government telling us what to do - thankfully, we eliminated the regional government, score one for efficiency!)

Further, the lower down the governmental food chain you get, the less people are interested.  At the local level, special interests can drive political agendas to a far greater degree (as, from my experience, most interest groups are looking for the government to do something).  With lower turnout, this leads to a greater rate of activists amongst the voting populace.  In Ottawa, this can be seen best with the school board.  Voter turnout is so very low for school board elections that you pretty much need some sort of faction behind you to get elected.  Again, this is not a recipe for a lovely libertarian utopia.

Still, I can't get away from the idea that my version of libertarianism must be coupled with some form of subsidiarity (and, no, I'm not going to get into some tautological argument that true subsidiarity will mean that the vast majority of issues will be decided by institutions smaller than government - churches, neighbourhood watch, families, etc - or just by individuals; I don't think such an argument would be particularly illuminating, regardless of the merits).

An initial, quick and dirty, idea is that the lower the level of government, the greater the ability of the individual to influence the decisions, both in terms of the relative weight of his vote (excuse the inherent sexism of the gender-neutral-pronoun-lacking English language) and the percentage of voters he can be reasonably believed to influence.  This doesn't guarantee the enacting of libertarian policies - and, quite possibly, does not even increase the likelihood of them being enacted - but in libertarianism-as-jon this increased choice and self determination is, in and of itself, a libertarian outcome.

Perhaps this is where I stray from libertarianism, but I don't think that the individual is the sole legitimate social actor (though I do believe that only with the individual does freedom and liberty lie).  Though I tend to dislike collectivist politics, to say that there are no collectives seems to ignore realty.  Acknowledging a social nature of humanity means that we acknowledge human groupings - even those designed to take on decision making roles (see churches and the various committees often enacted therein).

This would seem to be where we enter into the question of freedom as exit.  This is a topic about which I am not well versed, and I certainly don't want to get into it - though I will borrow it to continue on my current train of thought.  If we take the freedom to exit as a pretty basic manifestation of liberty (which, roughly speaking, seems like a fair proposition), we need to apply its meaning contextually.  Even though libertarianism-as-goal (and, yes, I'm deliberately going back to the Manzi term, rather than sticking with my personal one) is very ideological compared to the more empirical, libertarianism-as-means, it cannot be considered in a vacuum (at least not when translated to libertarianism-as-jon).  Theoretical freedom of exit means very little when real-world barriers get in your way (in the link above Will Wilkinson notes how useless freedom of exit is when your home is barricaded by anarchists).  Though we all have the freedom of movement and association, things tend to get in our way.

There are probably two things that cause the greatest barriers to exit - geography and borders.  Leaving a country is quite difficult if you don't live right near a border, and especially if there is no other jurisdiction that wants you within their borders.  As someone living in Ottawa, I can travel fairly easily to the United States if I desired to leave Canada, however, I would have greater difficulty establishing a life there.  If it was not Canada, but Ontario that I wished to leave, a move to Vancouver would be logistically difficult (read: expensive).    A relocation to Manitoba would be less expensive.  Of course, even if I could afford the move, I'd still be leaving my family, my friends and all ties to the local community that I've made.  In such a scenario, the cost of leaving Ontario might still be too great.

However, living in Ottawa, I could have an easy escape from my province.  I need only move across to the river to Quebec.  I could get a place that is mere walking distance to my current home, or I could drive for two hours and become a resident of Montreal.  Neither of these pose much of a problem geographically, and neither has any border issues.

Unfortunately, there is another problem with this, culture.  The cultural differences between Ottawa and Gatineau aren't huge, but they exist.  Even if I really wanted to leave Ontario, I would have to weigh the benefits of leaving Ontario with the costs of moving into a new culture.

With each layer of government added, freedom of exit is more affordable; the costs associated with moving diminish, and people have a realistic ability to actually leave a jurisdiction.  Do you love Canada, love Ontario but hate Ottawa zoning by-laws?  Well, you can just move to Carleton Place.  You'll still be able to keep all the ties you had in Ottawa, keep all the positives of your province and country, but you'll be able to escape pernicious minor regulations that you find undesirable.

It seems to me that this is political-level libertarianism-as-goal.  If we take libertarianism to mean not only the freedom of individual actors to do as they wish, but also the freedom of individuals to form politicl/governing bodies to make decisions.  By breaking this structure down into the smallest possible components, we afford people greater political choice and self-determination than if we had just one overbearing centralized government.

Perhaps I've skirted Richard's question a bit.  There's no guarantee that subsidiarity won't lead to many small tyrannies rather than one large one, but for libertarianism-as-jon, this concern is not paramount.  As someone who leans towards goal-oriented libertarianism, the choice is what is key.  Just as I believe that increased choice is the only way to ensure a virtuous populace, the only way to ensure a virtuous government is to give people as much control over their government as possible.  The more political/governance choice we have, the greater the chance that we'll create little hamlets of liberty.  There's no guarantee, of course, but it's the only shot we've got.  If we have no opportunity to succeed, we will definitely fail.  Unfortunately, even with a chance to succeed, we still might not.

So, this post turned out much longer than I'd expected - and it is definitely a bit of a mess - but for anyone who stuck around through the whole thing, I'd love to hear your thoughts.  I'm perfectly willing to believe that I'm way off track here.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

My Non-Libertarianism

Below, I take up the task of thinking through my own political philosophy, spurned on by an excellent post at The Daily Dish by Jim Manzi.  Some questions arose in the comments section, and I plan to address them very soon, but first I thought I should probably point something out.  I can't really say that I am a libertarian.

I am certainly libertarian-ish.  My politics and viewpoint probably align with libertarians more often that with any other political persuasion, but I'm not sure that the term is a particularly good descriptor.  So I guess the question comes up, why did I title a post My Libertarianism?

Short answer: the original Manzi post was about libertarianism, so to use it to examine my leanings, I had to examine myself through a libertarian lens.  I probably should have put up a disclaimer, but I didn't.

However, there is more to it.  Just as I may not really be a libertarian, it wouldn't be completely accurate to say I'm not a libertarian.  My politics fall somewhere between conservatism and libertarianism (granted, that would likely put me in the fusionism camp, but it's a bit of a loaded term, so, again, I'm not willing to totally embrace it), and, recently, seem to fall more on the libertarian side.

Further, in reading a lot of conservative and libertarian analysis, I always find some things that I disagree with (naturally).  Recently, when I stumble across some conservative analysis that I just can't buy into, it tends to push me towards libertarianism.  When I object to something on The Corner (for example), it tends to drive me to Cato.  However, when I object to something on Hit & Run, I feel no urge to start reading Commentary.  The more I self-identify with libertarian pieces, the more I tend to self-categorize as a libertarian.

(This effect is probably accentuated by contributing to ThePolitic.  It seems like it probably has a slightly more conservative bent than I do... which is part of the fun.)

It is quite possible that my increasing self-identification as a libertarian is a reaction to partisan politics - conservative is too often conflated with Conservative (in Canada) or Republican (in the U.S.).  I find this phenomena to be stronger in Canada, thus the more I claim to be a conservative, the more likely I am to be linked with Stephen Harper and all of his policies (or, worse, in the past with John Tory or Ernie Eeves... ugh).  Self-identifying as a libertarian insulates me a bit and gives me more independence (granted, there's a Libertarian Party, but I don't think I'll get linked to them too much).

Okay, I'm not saying a whole lot that's interesting right now.  This post is more to act as an explanation that a lot of my future posts might be more of an exercise in examining and determining my own political philosophy rather than providing incisive insight into current events.

The other purpose of this post is to thank the two commenters from the last post, Jim and Richard, for participating in this little adventure.  Comments, questions and critiques are always welcome.

Monday, September 7, 2009

What To Make of Harper's Senate Appointments

I've been trying to figure out where to come down on the Prime Minister's latest Senate appointments.  There was an immediate backlash, claiming that Harper was turning his back on his previous stance against an appointed senate, and abusing his power for cynical political gain.  This argument has some definite appeal.

On the other had, as Prime Minister it is his duty to make such appointments.  No province but Alberta has put into place any mechanism for democratically electing senators, and no federal government has altered the make up of our government to force a democratic mechanism for choosing senators.  Those things cannot be blamed on Stephen Harper.  Further, as bad as the "but they did it first" argument is, Canada is not well served when one party will "abuse their power" and another won't.

Of course, the dumbest part of this whole issue is that we're talking about appointing senators.  Is that really democracy?

Anyway, Richard Albert has his own take on the controversy, and it's worth the read.  The reader comments are vacuous and partisan, there are only two of them (as of this writing), but I'd suggest ignoring them.

My Libertarianism

Over at The Daily Dish, Jim Manzi has an interesting post on the two strains of libertarianism that he sees, libertarianism-as-means and libertarianism-as-goal (as he dubs them).  The two aren't mutually exclusive, but, when pressed, he suggests that libertarians will tend to fall into one camp or another.  He says he's a means guy.  I'm definitely a goals guy (if I were to be classified as a libertarian).

I should probably clarify; the way Mr. Manzi describes them, I can't, for my political philosophy, separate the two.

I think the problem that I have shoe-horning myself into Mr. Manzi's paradigm is that I don't think I see the same goal as he does.  Libertarianism-as-means is perfectly useful for developing efficient government, and economic and social well-being.  Federalism, subsidiarity, "laboratories of democracy" - these will help lead to the best outcomes for most political/social questions.  In this sense, I'm squarely on board with Mr. Manzi.  Libertarianism-as-means is the better method for determining political outcomes.  Freedom for freedom's sake (which is how I believe Mr. Manzi is defining libertarianism-as-goal - and I should mention that he admits these to be somewhat cartoonish descriptions) is no grand wonderland.

However, in the manner that I approach libertarianism (or, at least, my version of libertarianism), freedom for freedom's sake isn't freedom for freedom's sake.  Libertarianism as a goal is not libertarianism as an ends.  Further, the optimum set of social and economic outcomes is not the ultimate goal either.  The ultimate goal of the human experiment should not be measured on some macro level, where the welfare of all people is optimized (however you happen to measure that).  The ultimate goal resides at the individual level and it has nothing to do with economic success or social status... in fact, it has nothing to do with freedom.

When I first started this blog, the little tag line underneath the title was a fairly purple sentence about going Galt, metaphorically.  A while later, I changed it to the current, Without Choice, There Can Be No Virtue.  This idea, which I do not claim to be particularly original, has come back to me again and again.  It has come to me when I have thought about my political philosophy, when I have thought about social conventions, when I have thought about my faith.  When trying to determine if I fell more in the libertarian camp or more in the conservative camp, it has been this idea that has guided me (and is the reason that I can't fully commit to either).  For this is the goal, the chance at virtue.  Virtue cannot be legislated; it cannot be lectured; it cannot be imposed.  People can be led to virtue, but they must choose to follow (and they must choose not to be led astray).

(I realize that the introduction of my faith might be a complete turn off for many, and could have numerous libertarians shunning me from libertarian society - I read far more libertarians who reference their atheism than reference their faith - but my political philosophy, though not derived from my faith, cannot be completely separated.  All that being said, I am perfectly willing to defend my political views on grounds other than faith, and, in fact, feel that it is imperative that I do so.)

For me, libertarianism-as-goal equates to an opportunity at virtue for all.  This transcends the ordering of society.  Economic outcomes do not, intrinsically, play into this.  Mr. Manzi's advocacy for libertarianism-as-means is a fantastic argument for a political/economic/social system that deals with everything up to, but not including, virtue; however, I cannot support an ordering of society that cares not at all for the virtue of its citizens.

An advocate of libertarianism-as-means could easily shoot back that the creation of the virtuous citizenry will result in the creation of a virtuous society, consequently, libertarianism-as-goal (as it applies to me) is still libertarianism-as-means, i.e. by offering the choice, we get the best result.  The argument has some merit, but it just doesn't quite jive with me.  Any grand society that virtuous people create is merely a benefit.  The goal resides at the individual level.  It would be a little simplistic to suggest that I am arguing that it is better to suffer in freedom than to prosper in oppression, but it's not that far off.  The prosperity of an individual might be greater in the latter, but the prosperity as an individual would exist only in the former.  It is this prosperity that I most cherish.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Why Buy the Cow When Mysoginists Can Make You Feel Ashamed for Giving the Milk Away for Free

The people behind this company are absolute garbage.  If you were a nursing mother why would you give money to a company that equates your breasts to udders?

If you feel the need to cover up when your baby eats, whatever (though all those dirty old men staring at you, gladly chomping away, open-mouthed, on whatever swill the mall food court has on special that day won't ever put a blanket over their heads to hide the hideous spectacle that is their masticating), but these sh*theads are calling you all cows.  F*ck them; they can rot in bankruptcy.

Of course, speaking of "Cow", here's Sparklehorse:

I am slowly turning CG&A into a blog about '90s music.

Better Than Ezra

Really, who is when discussing freedom of speech.

Ezra Levant on the recent self-realization by a Human Rights Commission about the wretchedness of Human Rights Commissions:
But seriously, kudos to everyone who has helped to shine a light of scrutiny and accountability on these corrupt, abusive HRCs. I credit the blogosphere, and talk radio, and some of the more open-minded reporters in the mainstream media, for turning “HRC” into a four-letter word. And, of course, there’s Marc Lemire himself who has labored in the face of a relentless, tax-funded inquisition for nearly six years, as the state prosecuted him with an illegal law, using abusive tactics. He – and everyone else ever charged under this illegal law – deserves compensation for the abuses they’ve suffered.
(I also make note of it here.)

Just so that the title of this post makes sense, here's...

(Sorry, it's the best version I could find - to make up for it, here is what is, quite possibly, the best Saturday Night Live musical performance of all time.)

Bonus points for the Tom & Roseanne sighting.

I Owe Y'All a Post About Education

I've been meaning to write something about education for a while (I mad some notes on June 19 - on June 22 my house kinda burned down, hence the lack of progress).  Anyway, over at ThePolitic I note everything that Lindsay notes over at his blog, Random Dispatches.  Here's the money line from Lindsay's post:
Two interesting themes arise here: a) the most interesting stuff is happening at charter schools (the “startups” of the education world?) and b) if you want better schools you’re on a collision course with the union.  I’m hoping some of these memes go national soon.
As someone who has worked in the education industry, I echo Lindsay's sentiments, though I would add that in order to change education you will be colliding with unions and beaurocrats.  It's shocking how little concern there is for the actual students.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

A Lament

Over at ThePolitic, Matthew Campbell has a post up about the Bryant case, One Tory Willing to Give Bryant a Chance. In it he notes that we don’t have sufficient information to pass judgement on Michael Bryant regarding his collision and altercation with Darcy Allan Sheppard, which resulted in Mr. Sheppard’s death. I didn’t really want to weigh in on this one just yet (though I did in the comments section… but only tangentially). Regardless of who was at fault, it appears that numerous lives have been tragically altered (not the least of which being those of Mr. Sheppard’s four children).

I do have another little tangential comment to make, this time regarding the title of the blog post. First, let it be known that I am neither a Tory nor a Liberal (nor would I be considered a tory or a liberal). These days, I keep myself a little more separate from political parties. I don’t claim to be non-partisan or non-ideological; I just try not to get too personally invested in the fates of political parties.

The title of Matthew’s post gives me pause. It is inescapable that an incident with a prominent political figure will have some sort of political or partisan implications. People are too emotionally involved in their particular party affiliations for it not to be. First, I should congratulate Matthew on getting past partisan bickering and not judging Mr. Bryant along party lines. Especially in a case such as this, to do otherwise would be a ludicrous affront to human dignity. Still, there it is in the title of the blog post, “Tory”.

I’m going to give Matthew the benefit of the doubt. I am assuming that he put it in the title not because he would be naturally inclined to think that a member of the Liberal Party is, inherently, “the bad guy” in everything he or she does, but because he is acutely aware that many other people (and many people reading a political blog) will assume that people will allow partisanship to colour their judgement of someone like Mr. Bryant.

It’s a pretty sad phenomenon that the violent death of a man has to be explicitly analyzed in a non-partisan manner. We should know that somethings outweigh scoring petty political points.

And we should be able to trust that the rest of us know that as well.

Really? Conrad Black?

I have no strong feelings about Conrad Black one way or the other.  Which, compared to how he is sometimes vilified, says a lot; however, not as much as this…

I was at the Second Cup and I saw a man wearing a black t-shirt (natch) that read, I [heart] Conrad Black.  I was a little surprised.  I’m thinking I should get one.  The novelty aspect is reason enough.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

IVF Round Up

The National Post comes out against funding for IVF. I agree, but I'm not fan of the rambling mess of an Op-Ed. Somehow, we go from the recession to IVF to sperm donation to abortion to feminists to yuppies to media-savvy cheapos. I guess that covers all of the right wing populist's bugaboos, but couldn't they have just talked about personal responsibility?

Also in The National Post, Amir Attaran shares my dislike for the editorial, but we still come to different conclusions.

The Toronto Star seems to be against funding IVF treatment, worrying that the province's finances couldn't handle it. They also suggest that if there are unhealthy aspects of IVF that we hope funding will eliminate, we should probably just make those practices illegal. There's more coherence to that argument than to the panel's suggestion, but I'm not sure if it's great to have the government decide what treatments we can purchase for ourselves.

The Ottawa Citizen supports the idea of expanded coverage for IVF, citing fairness and potential cost savings.

The Montreal Gazette also comes out in favour of funding IVF.

For those who haven't been paying attention, I weigh in here, here, here, here  and here.

(God, I need a life.)

Everything I Ever Needed to Know About Life, I Learned From '90s Hip Hop

I've been doing the bulk of my "long form" blogging over at ThePolitic for the past week.  I apologize for just dumping some short little posts over here.  I don't mean to neglect CG&A; it's just kind of the way it has worked out.

Anyway, this isn't a particularly in depth post either.  Mainly, I just thought I'd let y'all know about what's going on at ThePolitic.

Richard is keeping up his series on major players in Canadian politics with an interview with Rocco Rossi, the Liberal Party's cheif fundraiser.  You can read it here.

I make note of a WTO decision that awards damages to Brazil from the U.S.  It's nice to see a blow struck for unfettered trade.

However, the biggest activity revolves around a post by Sean Calder.  Sean takes up the topic of human rights, "human rights" and Human Rights Commissions.  This leads to a bit of back and forth between some readers and some contributors in the comments section.

Taking a cue from that discussion, I post a thought or two about the evolution of human rights.  It's kind of long, but here's some of the meat:
When we turn these acts of charity into ‘human rights’ that are owed to various members of society, we are robbing society not only of the acknowledgment of the gift we are giving, but of the duty we have to give it...
Naturally, you should read the whole thing.

Anyway, back to some good old fashioned CG&A content, here's some '90s hip hop:

A friend of mine threw this on a mixed tape he made for me back in school.  Here's the money line (atleast as it relates to the discussion at ThePolitic):
...F*ck the First Amendment / My speech was free the day that my soul descended.
Couldn't have said it better myself.