Monday, January 31, 2005

Time to redefine the question

Babble on.

My Chief Ottawa Correspondent (Sabu, Hunter of the Narwhal), remarked recently that I haven’t weighed in yet on the same-sex marriage debate. Given the fact that I’ll generally take a shaky and unjustified stand on any given issue, even when no stand at all is perfectly sufficient, he was understandably surprised. Well, my friend, have no fear – The Babbler is about to take a firm editorial position in that puddle of quicksand over there. Watch, and get ready to throw me a rope.

I don’t feel like I have a dog in the same-sex marriage fight, to be perfectly honest with you. Oh, the so-cons will say I need to man the bastions against the onslaught of immorality poised to overrun Christendom, and the Jack Layton crowd will say everyone has a vested interest in seeing the victory of human rights over homophobic bigotry. I think they’re both full of bunk.

The group doing the most damage to ‘traditional marriage’ right now is married folk who don’t take the commitment seriously enough. You demean marriage when you cheat on your husband every time you go on a business trip, or when you get divorced a year after you got married, or when you put rings on each others’ fingers just because you’re twenty-eight and you’ve been cohabitating for four years now and all your friends are getting hitched. Liz Taylor and Britney Spears have done more to damage the institution of marriage than Rosie O’Donnell ever will.

The crowd screaming ‘discrimination’ and ‘human rights’ is equally daft. Marriage is discriminatory, and it should quite frankly remain that way. The discriminatory nature of marriage won’t change just because you suddenly let folks from the Pride Parade into the club. By defining marriage as a union of two consenting adults of distant-enough blood relation (regardless of sex), you may include same-sex partners, but you still discriminate against polygamists, beastialists (I may have just coined that term), pedophiles, and incestuous crazies, among others. What of their supposed ‘rights’? If a definition is to be worthy of the name, it will include some and exclude others. To suggest that embracing one particular group - like gays - while continuing to reject others will magically make marriage ‘inclusive’ is just politically-correct hogwash.

So, how would I solve the dilemma? Well, first I’d get government out of the business of marriage altogether: civil unions for everyone.

Marriage is too loaded and unclear a term for use in this debate. It’s an anachronistic throwback to the days when the state assumed everyone had Judeo-Christian beliefs. In today’s society, when you talk about marriage, you have to ask: are you talking about Catholic marriage – the type you can only do once unless one spouse dies or the marriage is annulled? Are you talking about financial obligations, like common-law marriage? Are you talking about both, or about something else entirely?

I say we remove the debate as far as possible from the passionate traditional and religious undercurrents that swirl around the term marriage, and debate the terms of civil unions in this country. Let churches decide whose unions merit God’s blessing (they're going to do it anyhow), and leave the completely separate legal rights and obligations to the state.

At that point, the question becomes more clear: which types of relationships should receive legal protection in this country, and why? Which should tolerated, but accorded no special favoured status? Finally, which should be prohibited?

Personally, once the question is clarified, I believe child-bearing unions of two or more should receive special status, and that the status should attach to the children. That is to say, a widow, widower or single-parent should retain the special status even in the absence of a spouse. Society has a vested interest in promoting decent child-rearing, because it contributes to the continuation of the species and to the health of society. If you don’t believe procreation is something society should encourage (because of global overpopulation or some such reason), we part ways here. Likewise, if you believe only a man and a woman in a long-term relationship should be supported in their efforts to raise children, we part ways here.

Childless unions – of heterosexual, homosexual, polyandrous, polygamous, and even incestuous partners – should be tolerated, but not sanctioned by the state. Again, I must stress: feel free to sanction or censure whatever you want in your church. Incestuous procreation should be prohibited, for the obvious genetic reasons. Consent should remain a requirement for any union within the parameters of this discussion – children, animals, and the severely mentally-disabled can’t give consent, and so should remain barred from any relationship of this nature.

I’m guessing many of my readers are scraping jaws off desks right now. So much for tidy political categorizations, eh? Now that I’ve staked myself out in the cold, you are free to begin throwing rocks from both left and right.

Babble off.

The Red Ensign Standard

Babble on.

Well, bless my Seoul.

Babble off.

Fanning the flames

Babble on.

As a Liberal, why wouldn't you just admit you're buying second-best for budget reasons, and be done with it?

Oh, that's right.

Babble off.

Friday, January 28, 2005


Babble on.

Why fight for the money your people need to do their job properly, when you can be a good little political appointee and sell your subordinates and your service out to political expediency?

If this article is any indication, Rick Hillier is following the time-honoured tradition of the man in the green flannel suit.

Any rapidly deployable expeditionary force needs a military-style, long-range strategic airlifter, with some degree of 'rough-field' performance. The U.S. Boeing C-17 is an excellent aircraft, but alas, the price tag puts it out of our range. Hillier has said that he intends to stop the practice of endlessly studying systems that DND cannot possibly afford. (Babbler's bold)

So much for using strategic requirements as the basis for equipment decisions.

Yes, I fully understand the counter-argument that he's being smart by devoting resources only to battles he thinks he can win. I think that argument's garbage. Over the past few decades, the CF has had all too many flag-rank bureaucrats who fought only the battles they thought they could win. Ask normal men and women in uniform how well that plan has worked out for them.

At this point, the CF needs a military leader who will challenge his political masters to do things right, not another tame manager who will work quietly within the continually-shrinking box they allot to him. This is just one more piece of evidence that the Liberals are succeeding in their quest to breed the fight right out of the Canadian military.

It makes me want to empty my stomach.

Babble off.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

There's a time for rants, but...

Babble on.

While I disagree with a couple of his conclusions from the last two paragraphs - I happen to feel we won't be able to conclusively pass judgement on the war's impact on the middle east and on the battle against Islamofascist terror for years to come - James Bow has done an admirable job summing up both the positives and negatives of the Iraq war to date (nod to BBG for pointing me in the right direction).

I would think that it is time to acknowledge, as others have done, liberals and conservatives alike, that while things aren’t as bad as they could have been, this war doesn’t look nearly as good as it did during the days leading up to it.

No shame in admitting that type of mistake. We all pursued our ideals using the best facts available, and some of our predictions turned out to be right and some turned out to be wrong. It’s still a source of surprise to me that there were no weapons of mass destruction. That’s fine. Make adjustments. Learn from our mistakes. Move on.

But let us learn from our mistakes, at least. And let’s ensure that some people accept responsibility for what they’ve done.

Equally importantly, in my opinion, James eschews inflammatory rhetoric in favour of reasonable questions and comments presented in reasonable language. Over-the-top commentary in the blogosphere can be fun, and venting is an important function for many like Sean and myself who only partially joke about blogging being cheaper than therapy. But an uninterrupted diet of blog-rants can produce intellectual constipation. As someone whose own rhetoric becomes inflammatory from time to time, I appreciate James' sobering influence on the discussion.

So, with James' example to follow, how comfortably do I sit in my Monday-morning armchair on the issue of the Iraq war, George Bush, and the broader war on terror?

Well, first, I'd agree the U.S. intelligence on WMD's and the immediate threat posed by Iraq was so incredibly faulty that the entire American intelligence-gathering and analyzing apparatus should be pulled apart from top to bottom. The fact that intelligence agencies from a number of other countries thought the same thing is a mitigating factor, but not really a valid excuse. The U.S. has more resources than anyone else to devote to knowing what it needs to know - period. And this isn't the first time in recent years the intelligence community has been dead wrong on a pivotal issue - anyone remember the fall of the Soviet Union? These aren't peripheral issues. To be right about what sort of oil contracts are being signed in secret by what countries is inconsequential if you're wrong about a major justification for war.

Yes, yes, I know the threat of WMD's wasn't the only rationale the Bush administration put forward for the invasion of Iraq. But it was undoubtedly the most compelling one. To suggest Congress would have authorized the use of military force in Iraq for the sole purpose of freeing Iraqis from Hussein's brutal totalitarianism and creating a free democratic society from scratch is pure fantasy.

Personally, I don't believe Bush lied. I've always thought the analogy of a police officer who sees a known felon reaching into his jacket and shoots him, only to discover afterwards it was all a bluff, is a good one. You don't blame the cop after the fact, because he made the best decision he could on the basis of the information available to him at the time. Better safe than sorry. But I can understand why others see the Bush administration's wilful ignorance of any dissenting points of view as tantamount to lying. I believe James is right when he says the administration heard only those opinions it wanted to hear, and that's completely indefensible.

The question of troop levels for the war and the immediate aftermath is more difficult to answer, even in hindsight. More troops means more opportunity for logistical cock-ups. It means more expense. It means more targets for insurgents. And it might not mean more effectiveness. I also think the failure of Turkey to allow ground troops to attack from its soil was a critical hindrance to eliminating resistance before it could get organized.

In its defence, Turkey was in a difficult position as the only true Islamic ally of the United States. For its own internal political reasons, Turkey required a more widely-based international blessing, and it never got that. Which has to be seen as another glaring failure of the U.S. government. It's questionable whether Russia, China, and France would have ever allowed the UN to put its stamp of approval on an invasion of Iraq. But did Rumsfeld have to undermine the effort by spouting off about 'Old Europe' in front of a camera and microphone? In recent decades, the U.S. hasn't been particularly adept at diplomacy. I believe that's partly becuase they're big and powerful, not because they're stupid or inept. How diplomatic were the Russians at the zenith of their power? Not very - they didn't need to be. Diplomacy comes most easily to small and middle powers, because it's the only real tool they have.

But if the U.S. truly wants to lead the rest of the world away from the politics of power, to the politics of international cooperation and the rule of law as their rhetoric suggests, they need to do better. Because there's a serious gap between their words and their deeds right now, and it hurts their credibility, big time.

Some of the other points critics of the war make are questionable, and come down to carping. Take the example of disbanding the Iraqi army and banning Baathists from holding any positions of power. Turned the country into a chaotic mess, right? In hindsight, maybe. But we'll never be able to know what would have happened if the U.S. had taken the other fork in that road. It's quite possible the insurgency would have been far more effective with Baathist sympathizers in key government positions. And how much would the brutalized Shia and Kurdish populations have supported the reform process if their oppressors had been left in positions of influence? This sort of criticism is about counting angels dancing on pinheads.

Is it worth having the discussion about hypotheticals? Sure it is. But we shouldn't jump to unsubstantiable conclusions. That holds true for my side of the argument as well: keeping experienced Baathist hands on levers of government with which they were intimately familiar might well have avoided much of the chaos that has allowed the insurgency to survive this long. Just because I have a hard time swallowing that line of reasoning doesn't mean I'm right.

As far as James' assertion that the Iraq war has diverted attention, energy, and resources away from the war on terror, while I can see his point, I'm not convinced. I'm one of those people who thinks at some point you need to drain the swamp and kill the alligators. And I believe that the most sensible way to do that is by reaching for low-hanging fruit first. Iraq was low-hanging fruit: a brutal dictatorial regime whose pursuit of WMD's was consistent (although his stockpiles were nonexistent), whose willingness to use them was documented, whose ties to terrorism (though not to Al Qaeda) were established, whose hatred of the U.S. was unquestioned, whose defiance of international law was ongoing and on record, and whose threat to neighbouring countries was feared. If you're going to start changing things anywhere in the middle east, I think you can make a good argument for starting with Iraq.

You can make a good argument for starting with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict too. You can make a good argument for starting with Iran. You can make a good argument for starting with Saudi Arabia. You can make a good argument for starting with Syria and Lebanon. And you can certainly make a good argument for non-military methods in each and every case. None of those good arguments mean Iraq won't end up being a positive influence on the region, and therefore a strategic success in the years to come. If the jury's an honest one, it's still out on the wisdom of choosing military intervention in Iraq over the other options.

The decision to run two campaigns simultaneously - Afghanistan and Iraq - is another one that will be second-guessed by historians decades from now. America's inability to properly secure all of Afghanistan because of troop commitments to the Iraqi theatre has certainly slowed the progress of stable freedom and democracy in that country. The lack of real support from the rest of the world has also surely been disappointing to the U.S. - a lot of fine words and pledges, but few boots on the ground in the Afghani countryside, and dwindling financial follow-through as well. Unfortunately, the biggest problems in Afghanistan - from a U.S. perspective - were imported from the middle east: Bin Laden and his Arab muhajadeen. To not go back to the source of the threat - the rise of radical Islam in the middle east - might have been equally problematic for the Americans.

Still, with those caveats, I would have preferred a more focused effort in Afghanistan before going into any middle eastern nation. To have shifted attention so quickly to Iraq gives credence to the "NO BLOOD FOR OIL!" crowd of simplistic ninnies.

This is not to understate the importance of oil in the U.S. decision-making process. Oil certainly complicates all these issues, and not only in Iraq. It makes the U.S. look hypocritical in much of its idealistic rhetoric about freedom and democracy. The Americans remain overly 'nuanced' in their responses to injustice and oppression around the world - Rwanda, Darfur, and Kazakhstan come immediately to mind, not to mention Saudi Arabia. The selective outrage on human rights issues from the U.S. makes my eyes roll and my stomach lurch. There's no doubt in my mind that as a critical strategic interest, middle eastern oil was a significant factor in the decision to prosecute both Gulf Wars. But it's not as simple as the "NO BLOOD FOR OIL!" mob would suggest.

Many of these people also point to the Iraqi insurgency as evidence the threat of terrorism has increased due to the war, contrary to its stated goals. While I can see their point on a superficial level, that argument doesn't hold water with me. Without Iraq, Al Zarqawi and his like would have found other ways to cause trouble, most likely in the U.S. From a purely American standpoint, as gruesome and tragic as it is, it's better to have the scumbags killing people in Iraq than killing people stateside. And although it again illustrates the gap between American high words and ideals and real actions, I can't blame the U.S. for wanting to fight this war overseas rather than at home. That just makes sense, and so far it's worked (knocking firmly on wood right now). In the short term, the Bush administration's policies have been an effective barrier to terrorist attacks on American soil. If you don't believe that, then you have to believe they're the luckiest country on the planet; for three years solid now, they've engaged in provocation of the terrorists equivalent to stirring up the biggest, deadliest nest of hornets in the world and haven't been stung once. Luck's certainly a part of their success, but I can't believe it accounts for all of it. Of course, whether the long-term threat of terror is augmented or reduced by the Iraq war remains to be seen. That, I will freely admit.

An unintended consequence of the Iraq war is that it seems to have coalesced a great deal of latent Bush-hatred and anti-Americanism both in the U.S. and worldwide. Like many, I lament the idea that if you support a war on terror, you must support all George Bush's methods of prosecuting that war. And I equally lament the idea that if, like me, you support Bush's efforts to fight terror and support freedom and democracy in whatever realpolitik capacity he chooses to, you must automatically support his administration's and party's policies on gay rights, taxes, abortion, the environment, and just about anything else.

In our serious, non-ranting, non-trolling, non-baiting moments, let's call each spade a spade on its own merits, and leave tied-issue politics to the political spin-doctors. America is not evil because George Bush gets a pile of things wrong. And anti-Americanism hiding behind a fig leaf of anti-Bush propaganda doesn't fool anyone with eyes, ears, and a brain. Anyone - including bloggers like me - who can't or won't distinguish between support for one policy and support for another should be taken precisely as seriously as they deserve to be. The Iraq war doesn't change any of that.

As to what the Iraq war does change...well, it's my humble opinion we'll just have to wait and see.

Babble off.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Research is obviously overrated

Babble on.

Why am I not surprised that when the Mother Corp handles this issue, they make no mention of this this ugly aspect of it?

Babble off.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005


Babble on.

I wonder if either Paul Wells or Norman Spector has heard the blogospheric admonition "Do Not Feed The Troll?"

At least Paul seems to understand he's trying to put out a fire with medical-grade oxygen and a sprinkling of gunpowder. Not that either one of them cares a whit for what I think, but...the way to deal with compulsive attention-seeking megalomaniacs is to ignore them, gents.

Babble off.

Time to put on your thinking cap

Babble on.

One of the token lefties on my blogroll, Treehugger, is soliciting informed opinions on the role of Canada's military going forward. One of the things I like about TH is that this isn't a rhetorical question to score cheap points, or an excuse to launch into a partisan tirade against some perceived position or other, or a traffic-generating blogospheric stunt - it's an honest question from an honest guy.

And while the question is almost unreasonably broad, this is a worthwhile discussion to have - especially since it's taking place outside the cloistered conservative quarters of the blogosphere. Canadians across the political spectrum should be able to take a justifiable position on this pressing issue, listen to differing viewpoints, and come away with a better understanding of both their own ground and the other guy's.

So go weigh in.

Babble off.

Monday, January 24, 2005

With apologies to Mr. Russon

Babble on.

On ABC's This Week yesterday morning, George Will said something worth repeating*:

Harvard, like most American universities, believes in diversity of everything but thought.

Here's what he was talking about.

* (With apologies to Nicholas Russon for wading briefly into his pond once again - no need for pistols, my good man!)

Babble off.

Update: It seems some knee-jerk columnists just can't keep the knee from jerking (hat-tip to LIB). After reading this piece (of what, I refuse to say, on the grounds that my mother reads this blog), I can only assume the standard for factual content at the Globe & Mail is dropping like a stone. Read a more well-researched account of what Lawrence Summers actually said that started this whole tempest.

I'll grant that the way he proposed these ideas lacked the sort of sensitivity to public perception one would expect of the president of a major university. But the substance of his remarks? Ruth Marcus, writing in the WaPo, says it best:

Many of the same people denouncing Summers, I'd venture, believe fervently that homosexuality, for example, is a matter of biology rather than of choice or childhood experience. Many would demand that medical studies be structured to consider differences between men and women in metabolizing drugs, say, or responding to a particular disease. And many who find Summers's remarks offensive seem perfectly happy to trumpet the supposed attributes that women bring to the workplace -- that they are more intuitive, or more empathetic or some such. If that is so -- and I've always rather cringed at such assertions -- why is it impermissible to suggest that there might be some downside differences as well?
The Summers storm might have been easy to forecast. But it says less, in the end, about the Harvard president than it does about the unwillingness of the modern academy to tolerate the kind of freewheeling inquiry that academics and intellectuals above all ought to prize rather than revile.

BTW, that Mallick would include herself in a hypothetical club with members like Marie Curie and Roberta Bondar shows just how much her ego exceeds her intellect. What. A. Twit.

Another update: Joel Fleming has also written a very readable fisking of The Twit. It's heartening to see a conservative raft bobbing bravely along in a sea of liberal academic political correctness.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

A libertarian's love

Babble on.

No one is truly an adult in the nanny state. We are all mewling, suckling babes, requiring constant care and supervision, lest we poison ourselves on freedom or some other noxious substance, or suffocate in the complexities of the big bad world.

Read the rest. I mean it.

Babble off.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Small blessings. Big battles.

Babble on.

Regular readers (and I now have to remove both socks to count you all) will be pleased to learn I have received my first press release. Looks like Bob got it too. Of course, he's [jamesearljonesvoice] BOB TARANTINO [/jamesearljonesvoice], so I expect him to be in the loop. But me? I'm blushing.

To the good news, though: Gerry Nicholls and his fine crew at the National Citizens Coalition have just won a three-year legal battle with Elections Canada. Charges regarding an advertisement run by the NCC were dropped suddenly by the federal election watchdog, and although they didn't seem to feel the move was newsworthy, it most certainly was. Why did they drop the charges? As Gerry stated on his own blog earlier today:

Why did Elections Canada suddenly offer us a way out? Easy. They knew the NCC would kick their butts in court.

Thank heaven for small victories. Well, small in terms of the bigger picture. This entire episode is just a sideshow to the main event: repealing the federal election gag law. While I certainly wouldn't want to impugn the *cough POLITICAL* motives of Elections Canada, I wonder if any of the folks in Ottawa who trumped up this charge almost four years back considered the fact that a protracted legal battle would tie up time, effort, and money that the NCC would rather be spending to get the election gag law overturned? Nah. That would be dirty play, and we all know Liberals are as pure as the driven frickin' snow, right?

The NCC is a self-described 'conservative' organization - although they meticulously refuse to accept government or political party money, and go so far as to forgo tax-deductible status - but their fight against the election gag law should attract support across political lines.

Gay rights groups, anti-poverty groups, environmental groups, human rights groups, organized labour groups, anti-war groups - pretty much any group with ideas even the left supports is effectively barred from putting those ideas into the mainstream with advertising during an election. Not to mention conservative organizations. Want to talk tax relief, free trade, defence spending, foreign aid, smaller government, private healthcare? Sorry, but during an election, you're not allowed to spend enough money to make your point to the Canadian public.

Oops - that's not quite right: political parties can pay a king's ransom for their own propaganda once the writ is dropped.

...whereas a political party can spend up to $12 million on a national election ad campaign, the gag law restricts "Third Parties" -- ie non-politicians – to a mere $150,000.

Now you don’t have to be an advertising executive to understand that $150,000 is not a lot of money when it comes to mounting a national media campaign in a country the size of Canada. In fact, it’s an absurdly low amount.


Nor is the gag law just about spending limitations; it also says if you or your group wants to spend more than $500 on election advertising you must first get permission from Elections Canada. If the Chief Electoral Officer turns your request down, you have to keep quiet.

I'm a member in good standing of the CPC, but I have absolutely no desire for the CPC brain-trust to speak for me - exclusively - during an election.

This is an issue that seems to fall out of the public eye between elections, but it shouldn't. Once an election is called, it's too late to do anything about it.

How did we get into this pickle? The Liberal government passed a draconian law, and the Supreme Court decided our right to free speech was trumped by the nebulous idea that voters might be oppressed - that's the word they used - by third-party advertising. Writing for the majority, Mr. Justice Michel Bastarache said:

“While the right to political expression lies at the core of the guarantee of free expression and warrants a high degree of constitutional protection, there is nevertheless a danger that political advertising may manipulate or oppress the voter.”

By that logic, newspapers should be gagged as well. Can anyone reasonably argue that the endorsement of a particular candidate by an editorial board - common practice in Canadian elections - isn't as manipulative and oppressive as an advertisment? When you consider Jane and Joe Canuck seem to want to cling to the outdated notion that journalists are impartial observers of the political process, and as a result are more likely to swallow journalists' biases hook, line and sinker, mainstream media may be more oppressive and manipulative than interest groups.

At least advertising is honest partisanship.

I'm sure I'm not the first person to say it, but under our current laws, I could write an article for the *spit* Toronto Star that claims *spit* Jack Layton is the second coming of Christ, but I'd get charged for paying them to print exactly the same words in exactly the same paper.

Justice McLaughlin wrote more reasonably for the minority in dissent:

McLaughlin called the limits "draconian" and noted "the law at issue sets advertising spending limits for citizens . . . at such low levels that they cannot effectively communicate with their fellow citizens on election issues during the election campaign."

She added, "Political speech, the type of speech here at issue, is the single most important and protected type of expression. It lies at the core of the guarantee of free expression."

And finally, the dissenters noted that gag laws, "have a chilling effect on political speech forcing citizens into a Hobson’s choice between not expressing themselves at all or having their voice reduced to a mere whisper."

Hear, hear. Except, under this law, you won't hear. Support the NCC - left, right, or mushy middle - because we all have a dog in this fight.

Babble off.

Nice. Just frickin' fabulous.

Babble on.

*%$#%^*& Blogspot just lost an entire post. That's twice this week. I swear, if I knew thing-one about how to run a site outside of idiot-proof Blogspot, I'd be doing it in a New York minute. Unfortunately, I'm completely lost when it comes to code.

Time to start retyping, I guess.

Babble off.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Sure, but how big's your aircraft?

Babble on.

Much has been said and written about the new Airbus A380, the biggest passenger aircraft the world has ever seen, and the first aircraft to challenge the almost forty-year hegemony of Boeing's long-reigning 747.

To me, the plane is pure bling.

Don't get me wrong: there's nothing wrong with a little bit of national - or continental - glam. But the thing about luxury is that you have to have something more substantial to back it up. Is there anything more pathetic than the guy whose car is pricier than his house; the guy who wears more around his neck and on his fingers than he has in his bank account; the guy Texans describe as "all hat, no cattle?"

At least one man in Europe is asking the same question:

Everyone complains about American management of this unipolar world, and, as one looks at some of the Pentagon's recent miscalculations, such as post-war Iraq, one can see why. But at present the Americans can and must make all the relevant decisions, because it spends easily more than twice as much as all 25 EU countries on defence, and that is with the dollar at a deep low. If Europe wants the kind of political influence that goes with supplying the world's fattest aircraft, it will have to do more than out-subsidise Boeing.

Europe will have to build the choppers and the fighters that go with world leadership, and there is no sign of that whatsoever. The most that can be said is that Americans will buy the Airbus 380s to ferry their troops around the world.

This worldview dismisses Axworthian 'soft power' as so much empty posturing. Regular readers of this site (hi Mom!) know I agree with this point of view - or at least agree that if 'soft power' is to have any effect at all, it must be backed up by something harder. In fact, if you're going to use the word 'soft' in relation to diplomacy at all, I say you should just quote Teddy Roosevelt and leave it at that: "Speak softly and carry a big stick."

So I congratulate all the chest-thumping, nose-thumbing, stuff-strutting EUro-types on an unquestioned aviation accomplishment. I hear you speaking softly. I see your bling. But I can't help asking: what else you got?

Babble off.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Read more Damian

Babble on.

Damian Penny's post today regarding the Churchill Falls fiasco is a must read.

The Globe editorialists actually spin this as an argument that Newfoundland would have been no better off had it not joined Canada, since an independent Newfoundland would have had even less luck in getting a power corridor. They may have a point, though whoever the Prime Minister of Newfoundland would have been at the time, he almost certainly would have been more competent than Smallwood. But the point remains: Newfoundland and Labrador had its best chance to escape the "welfare ghetto", and Ottawa blocked the gate.

Newfoundlanders didn't narrowly vote to join Canada so it could be a second-class province, but that's what happened, at least in this case. And we won't get over it any time soon.

Damian, always the thoughtful commentator, resists the temptation to lay blame, and instead apportions responsibility, not the least to Newfoundlanders. Not many of us would be able to exhibit such balance and perspective on an issue that literally hits so close to home.

Babble off.

No soapbox for me today...

Babble on.

I will spare you the burden of wading through endless paragraphs of my tired prose today, and instead direct you to the greener analytic pastures of Michael Gove at The Times:

Scientists have a phrase for the point at which the known universe ends, and a black hole begins. They call it the event horizon. In recent months it has become clear that a similar phenomenon is at work in media coverage of foreign affairs.

There is a particular point at which knowledge appears to end and a huge black hole begins. It seems to occur somewhere in the 1960s. The specific event beyond which most commentators now find it difficult to see is the Vietnam War.

The article is worth reading in its entirety. Period. Full stop.

But this would hardly be blogging worthy of the name if I didn't have at least one nit to pick and one leap of imagination to make:

  • According to the author, the Americans failed to put enough troops on the ground in the initial stages of the occupation because of Arab sensitivities. Why is it only those opposed to the war in the first place seem able to admit the U.S. made a mistake in this aspect of the operation all by their lonesome? If I'm driving a car, and the guy in the passenger seat tells me to gun it through a red light, I'm still the driver and I still have the final decision. If I think my passenger's advice is bad, I should disregard it. If I don't, and it turns out to be bad, I have to take responsibility for my decision to heed that advice. Is the concept of responsibility that difficult to grasp?

  • The author states: "From the time of Nasser the Arab peoples have been sold a succession of strongmen as the answer to their plight. And they have seen their region suffer as a result." The same can be said of Latin America - see Castro, Pinochet, Norriega, et al ad nauseum, culminating in the popular but misguided support for Chavez in Venezuala right now. Spanish-speaking peoples around the world are beginning to turn the corner towards liberal democracy, but there seems to remain a wistful longing for the strong and inspiring dictator. I wonder what lessons Latin Americans might take from a cross-cultural rejection of the strongman legacy and the genesis of a liberal democracy in Iraq? Yes, yes, assuming we get a liberal democracy in Iraq - I remain an optimist on this issue.

That's all I've got today. As a much better writer than me has said: "I am resigned to the fact that I will disappoint everyone, eventually."

Babble off.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Recruit Monday Reporting

Babble on.

I just finished watching Rick Mercer's Monday Report - with Hockey Night In Canada on indefinite hiatus, I needed to pick another token Mother Corp show to watch once a week, just to get my tax money's worth.

Truth be told, I actually like the show. That's right, I said it: I like a show produced by the Castro Bootlicking Corporation. I'm sure that admission will have some of my fellow Tories clamouring to kick my latte-quaffing-granola-eating-Trudeau-smooching tail out of the CPC treehouse, and change the secret handshake so I can't bluff my way back in. Whatever.

Tonight I had an extra-special reason to watch Mercer's antics: he was filming at my alma mater, the Royal Military College of Canada. The poor cadets foolish enough to appear on camera with a man who mocks people for a living didn't fare too badly, though, all things considered. Mercer seems to have a soft spot for the Canadian military, which might explain part of my soft spot for his show. Anyhow, highlights for me, the crochety ex-cadet:

1. Officer Cadet Bloggins shovelling back the ice cream. Wait...ICE CREAM?! When the *&^%# did they start serving ice cream? When I was a rook, we thought ice cream was a fairy tale told by cruel fourth-years to get rooks drooling over something they'd never, ever taste. What else do these coddled brats get? Bedtime stories after a tough day at the spa? Bah!

2. Mercer rappelling down the College rappelling tower. What?! Since when did cadets at the proudest and cheapest military institution in NATO need a fancy-schmancy custom-made rappelling wall to practice their skill? When I was a rook, we took apart Abthorpe's steel-frame standard-issue bed, lodged the headboard in the door of his third-floor room as an anchor for our rope, and went Aussie-style (face-first for the uninitiated) down the wall of Lasalle block. If we'd been caught, honest to pete, I think we'd still be marking time. Anyhow, gear that's designed for the job you're doing just isn't a part of the Canadian Armed Forces tradition - you're supposed to make do with too little, too late, like McGyver in a bright scarlet tunic. How precisely does practicing with good kit prepare cadets for life as a real, honest-to-goodness officer in today's CF? I say you train the way you'd fight: with popsicle sticks and a can of lighter fluid. Bah!

3. The College Band playing Trooper's Raise A Little Hell. Pipes, drums, pillboxes, gaiters. Heh. That was pretty cool.

BZ to all involved from 18808. Gimme a beer!

Beer, esses, emma!
Who can stop old RMC!
Shrapnel, cordite, NCT!
R! M! C!

Babble off.

[insert lame-o pun equating the name 'Vitor' with the concept of 'victory']

Babble on.

Way to go, Vitor!

Oh, and on a trivial note, does anyone else find it quaintly anachronistic how the MSM always feels the need to tell you where a blogger lives, like that's somehow relevant? From today's National Post (ya gotta pay for more than a snippet):

Perhaps Justice Gomery should be thrown out for speaking his mind on Liberal mismanagement -- heaven forbid more details of the Liberals' usual operation come out. Even if Gomery goes, there'll still be people like Edmonton Web-logger Victor Marciano. Marciano ( has pored over Elections Canada data and found the federal Liberals have some unusual donors.

Maybe blogging is part of What it takes to win... (couldn't resist!)

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"Canada will never be a warrior nation"

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This sad admission comes from Senator Colin Kenny, the closest thing the Canadian parliament has to a hawk.

I'm not a warmonger, but I'm not a pacifist either - to me a pacifist is someone who would let you die to satisfy his morals. And unless we can be guaranteed that Canada will never again be confronted with a challenge requiring warriors, I say we must retain the capability to become a warrior nation.

Kudos to Senator Kenny for continuing to bring attention to an important issue, even though it discredits his own Liberal party. Paul Martin and his band of rudderless career influence-peddlers and power-chasers must be held accountable, if not for the decades of mismanagement that led our military to its current depleted state, then for their complete failure to even begin the process of reconstituting our country's military capabilities.

Babble off.

Update: Lorne Gunter comments on the most recent unintended consequences of starving and ignoring our military:

Canada has become a finger-pointer and a cheque-writer in international affairs, not a sleeve-roller. We've done much to be proud of in tsunami relief, but we could have done so much more. And there is a chance much of our well-intentioned assistance will come to naught because, as a nation, we no longer have the capacity to carry our kindness the last, most difficult steps. (Babbler's 'hell, yeah' bold)

As a nation, when did we forget how to roll up our sleeves? How did we let ourselves forget? And what will it take to shake us into sleeve-rolling action again?


Babble on.

Jay Jardine is driving standard - Red Ensign Standard - on the Freeway to Serfdom.

As the Brigade has grown, this has become a huge task. Congratulations to Jay on a job well done.

Babble off.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

A murmuring trickle and a snowy pussycat

Babble on.

Has Chris Taylor posted the cat? We report, you decide.

Babble off.

Friday, January 14, 2005

The lone voice of dissent

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Adam Radwanski, who for some unfathomable reason disdains to use permalinks, seems to be the lone semi-reasonable voice of dissent in the whole political funding whirlwind that's taken over discussion on Canadian conservative blogs of late.

According to the database, I gave “contributions” to the Liberal Party of $253.09 in 1998 and $287.17 in 2000. Except those weren’t contributions – they were delegate fees to attend national conventions. And if I’d known it was going to be publicly listed as a “contribution” when I paid that fee in 2000, by which point I’d already lost my enthusiasm for the party and was just going to the convention out of curiosity, I never would have signed the cheque.

In hindsight, I should have followed my own better instincts and actually posted the caveat I was considering when I linked to Vitor's spate of posts: all this assumes the data provided is accurate. As someone who works with databases on a daily basis, I know how iffy an assumption that can be.

Still, if arguing over the definintion of a true contribution versus an innocent convention fee is the biggest hole to pick in the fabric of this story, I think the Canadian VRWC may be on to something.

Unfortunately, Adam tarnishes a perfectly valid point by following it with a petulant one:

I’m lucky enough that I can come on here and say my piece, under the assumption that anyone sufficiently obsessed with me to search out my contributions probably also visits my blog. But not so other people who never really thought of themselves as donors, don’t know they’re listed online as such, and couldn’t really do much about it even if they did. And that’s just not right.

Sorry, but the idea that what you give to a political party is between you, the party, and your God (or accountant) is about a decade out of date. Transparency is good.

Oh, and speaking of transparency: Adam, if you're reading, and if you're going to continue blogging, you should learn to use the common courtesy of a hat tip. Jumping on a story you would have found nowhere but in the blogosphere without crediting your inspiration is bad form.

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Beaten with a whiffle-bat

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Man, oh, man, is Bob ever on his game today! This is easily the funniest commmentary on Judy Sgro's impending resignation you're likely to see:

Ferchrissakes, can't you guys at least engage in impropriety for something worthwhile? Like, I don't know, cash payments ending with lots of zeros? Private islands in the Caribbean? Castles in small European countries? Hell, small European countries? Instead, you throw it all away for a couple of boxes of pizza and a couple of shmucks who will hammer some signs into lawns? Y'all suck.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: if you're not reading Tarantino daily, you're missing out. Or, as he himself would say, you suck.

Read the rest of his takedown here.

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More fun with numbers

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Building on the spadework done by Vitor and Mike, Stephen Taylor has two posts up that bring additional perspective to the political donation landscape in Canada.

Note to Stephen: the one additional element I would have liked to see in graphic form would have been the total donations numbers (including the BQ). Of course, if I was less of a complete technological moron, I'd be able to do it myself. Anyone who wants to tutor me on posting graphics to this blog will be hailed publicly as oracle and mentor.

Anyhow, back to the numbers:

Liberal: $21,811,746.65
CA/PC (Conservative): $7,725,072.51
NDP: $7,761,588.18

That's total donations in 2003. What shocks me are the proportions. I mean, I knew the Lib's would have raised piles more than the CPC or NDP, but I had no idea it was [a third - correction] over 40% more than their totals combined.

The other shocking stat - for me at least - was the percentage of NDP funding that comes from unions: 62%. All ten of their top donors in 2003 were unions, and the average donation from those ten was almost half a million dollars ($461,789.42). By way of contrast, the average donation from the top ten CA/PC donors was less than a tenth of that ($43,993.48). If you take out PM Dither's regicide-fund surplus of almost $3M, the Fiberals top donors average just over a hundred grand ($120,039.13).

Oh, and by the way, 50% of the Liberals' funding came from the business sector in 2003 - a whopping $10.9 million. That is to say, the Liberals received 42% more from Canadian businesses alone than the Conservatives did from all sources combined.

All the parties talk about 'grassroots support', but only the Conservatives seem to be driven by it - on a fundraising level at least (63% from individuals). Oh, some Dippers will argue that union funding is 'grassroots' - but only a hard-core socialist could call forced giving through mandatory dues 'grassroots' support. The Canadian Labour Congress says three million Canadians are represented by unions, but the NDP attracted only 2.1 million votes in the 2004 election. Assuming only union members voted NDP - a ridiculous assumption, but an illustrative one - a fully 30% of Canadians who are forced to support the NDP through their union dues didn't support Layton & Co. through their vote. The NDP likes to say it's the voice of the 'little guy', but it looks to me like it's the voice of what is increasingly just another type of Canadian big business - the unions.

The political left is fond of saying 'follow the money', but when we do, we find the Liberals are in bed with business and the NDP are in bed with the unions.

In fact, if you follow the money, the only party that speaks for Joe and Jane Canuck is the Conservative Party of Canada.

Ahhh, I hear the sweet music of goateed urbanites choking on their lattes. My work here is done.

Babble off.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

How far the Dippers have fallen

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I'm still chuckling to myself after reading Jay Jardine's latest rant.

I don't even think the NDP believes their own Marxist bullshit anymore, they are content to serve as the managers of the perennially aggrieved mob, the ration-card holders of society, if you will.

Read the rest while I go try to find a free lunch of my own.

Babble off.

Through gritted teeth

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Boy, you almost feel sorry for Haroon Siddiqui at Pravda Canada, having to give credit to American diplomacy in Africa. Schadenfreude is kind of like feeling sorry, isn't it? No? Well, close enough.

Still, rabid mouthpiece of the Canadian left that he is, he can't resist a gratuitious shot at Bush, nor a truly pathetic chest-beating over the the equally pathetic official Canadian role in Sudan.

The north-south peace accord is George W. Bush's second major triumph in Africa, having earlier spooked/cajoled Moammar Gadhafi into giving up his nuclear program.

Both policies were driven, in part, by oil, as was the invasion of Iraq, to lessen American dependence on Saudi crude.

Sudan pumps 350,000 barrels a day, more than Iraq at present. It has the potential to go up to 1 million barrels daily.

Bush was also responding to his core Christian constituency, long concerned about Sudan's Christians, as it once was about the Christians in East Timor.

Whatever his motivation, the president's is a remarkable achievement. (Babbler's bold)

Siddinkqui brings up two popular bugaboos - oil and bible-thumping - as qualifiers to his praise because it rots his socks to have to credit Bush with anything positive. Anything at all. It's like he's reassuring his readers: "Hey, even a blind squirrel stumbles across an acorn every once in a while. It doesn't mean I was wrong about everything else I've said about the lying rednecked idiot."

Then Maroon decides he's going to pour oil on the waters of *spit* praising Bush *spit* by blowing Canadian participation in the Sudanese peace process completely out of proportion.

Since Jean Chrétien named [Senator Mobina Jaffer] Canada's special envoy to Sudan in 2002, she has met that country's many estranged peoples, while also talking to Khartoum.

In July, she helped bring Darfur's religious and tribal leaders together in a traditional dispute-resolution conclave. She was in Nairobi Sunday for the signing of the north-south deal. Next week, she will meet the Beja rebels (she's the only foreigner given a permit to go into eastern Sudan). Then she will return to Darfur.

Canada is providing the political know-how and the resources to nudge Sudan toward a national policy of reconciliation, she said in a phone interview yesterday from Kampala, Uganda.

Did you get that? "Canada is providing the political know-how" by bringing "Darfur's religious and tribal leaders together in a traditional dispute-resolution conclave" and by simply being "in Nairobi Sunday for the signing of the north-south deal." Well, if she can also sing "War Is Over" while accompanying herself on the bongo drums, I say we nominate her for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Martin must work with Bush to add Canadian understanding and expertise to American clout.

This is just too rich, even for the king-bozo at a paper written almost entirely by lord-and-lady-bozos. Canada has 101 democratically elected politicians sitting in three different legislatures who support the separation of their province from this country. We have at least one current provincial premier who feels justified removing the national flag from provincial buildings to protest a dispute between his government and the federal government. If anyone wants to waste a few hours of their life buried in Google search results vainly trying to dig up equally well-supported separatist groups in the U.S., be my guest.

And yet we Canadians supposedly have more to teach the Sudanese about learning to live together than the Yanks do.

After all these years, it still completely flabbergasts me how The Toronto Star can take even an article with a reasonable premise - the Americans have done a good job, but much more remains to be done in Sudan - and bury that premise in enough nauseating offal to render it almost unreadable. Time to scrub my retinas clean.

Babble off.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

"All assistance short of help"

Babble on.

Ben at Tiger in Winter has a post up that you must read:

Our present state -- a Potemkin ally with a Potemkin military and Potemkin shows of support when we are not stabbing our allies in the back -- is unworthy of a nation with our past and our people.

You'll frequently hear in leftish circles that conservatives - or classical liberals (just for Ben & Shannon) - are constantly tearing down Canada. That we want to be the 51st state, that somehow we're not as patriotic as the average Liberal-voting, Star-reading Joe and Jane Canuck.

That sort of garbage makes me so mad, I could spit.

The truth is that we're more patriotic in many cases. We want Canada to live up to its potential, both domestically and internationally, so bad it hurts. That means making Canada stronger - economically, socially, and yes - militarily. The Canadian left likes to talk about charting an independent foreign policy from the U.S., but how can you remain independent with no assets to devote to your international goals - foreign aid, consulates and embassies, and yes again - military? How do you maintain true sovereignty over Canadian domestic issues without a strong and expanding economy - one that's competitive worldwide without the crutch of a weak dollar?

The strong Canada conservatives are clamouring for is more independent than the wishy-washy, neither-fish-nor-fowl, spectral Canada we have now.

The Liberals seem satisfied with good enough. Conservative Canadians simply demand better. That's not a campaign slogan, it's an ethos.

So Ben is right: Canadian conservatives don't want to be a U.S. lapdog, and truth be told, the U.S. doesn't want that either. Both sides want Canada to be a strong, independent ally. Both sides want Canada to know its own mind. What is it about this philosophy the left is so scared of?

Babble off.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Calling Peter Mansbridge

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This should be the next big story in the Canadian media (ht Greg Staples via sda).

Peter Mansbridge? Lloyd Robertson? Kevin freakin' Newman, even?

Help me Colby-wan-Kenobi, you're my only hope! Even though I don't look as good in a space-age bikini as Carrie Fisher...did back then.

Again with the breath holding thing, though.

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Welcome to the new year

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On Friday of this week, I get my first paycheque of 2005. I was wondering what my tax bill would look like for the year.

Thanks to Jason Hayes for pointing me via e-mail to this tax calculator at The Fraser Institute.

Punching in the numbers...waiting...ugh. The calculator estimates almost 48% of my income goes to various levels of government. They're kidding, right?


Am I allowed to start campaigning for the Conservatives right away, or do I have to wait until the election's called?

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The Black Eye

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Go read Huck. Quickly, now! Don't worry, I'll still be here when you get back.

When you're done laughing...Kate at small dead animals has done her typically exceptional job with a serious roundup of the whole affair.

I don't normally watch evening news, because I think current events generally deserve more than a twelve-second soundbite and file footage. Besides, I'm not normally home much before seven o'clock on weekdays. Last night, however, I was, and I happened to catch the last few minutes of Newshour with Jim Lehrer - one of the few shows that doesn't rely on sound-bites and file footage to fill their hour.

What caught my attention was an interview with two of the members of the Rathergate investigation panel, and with the new CBS Senior VP Standards and Special Projects.

When questioned as to why the report avoided any discussion of what many of us conservatives see as an overt liberal bias in the network's news arm, former U.S. Attorney General and panel member Dick Thornburgh said "well, we didn't want to fall into the same trap CBS did: making accusations we couldn't prove" (or words to that effect - I'm going from my admittedly poor memory here). Fair enough.

The new ethics and standards watchdog at CBS, 38-year veteran Linda Mason, was contrite. She didn't hedge when asked about the mistakes made in pushing the fake story. She fessed up on behalf of the organization, and promised to do better. Also fair enough.

But will the CBS News culture root out their obvious liberal bias and fundementally change the way they report the news? I'm not holding my breath.

Babble off.

Monday, January 10, 2005

The Devil is a Carl Sagan economist

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I'd be lying to you if I said I always understand Curt's philosophical posts at North Western Winds. Of course, I'd be lying to you if I said I always care to. Someone (Socrates, apparently) said "the unexamined life is not worth living." Heh. He probably never had a contest - interrupted only by fits of giggling - with his four-year old to see who could blow the most bubbles with a straw in a glass of milk. Sometimes "the unexamined life" is damned good.

But Curt has posted an interesting snippet from C.S. Lewis' The Screwtape Letters that makes me want to do a bit of examining. Specifically, it unintentionally poses the question of whether The Devil is behind most modern economic theory.

The whole philosophy of Hell rests on a recognition of the axiom that one thing is not another thing, and, specifically, that one self is not another self. My good is my good and your good is yours. What one gains another loses.

Sounds an awful lot like the myth of scarcity to me. Encouraging the idea that we all have to claw at each other in constant struggle over the few scraps of land, or iron, or market share, or whatever, is a hellish proposal, if ever there was one.

In Unlimited Wealth, amidst a whole pot-pourri of other assertions whose merits I won't get into here, Paul Pilzer makes the astute point that cornering the market is only a viable strategy if it's possible to corner a market. For example, those who look to dominate the world's oil supply forget that the market is actually for energy, not oil. The minute human ingenuity discovers another way to power our lives, the importance of oil is diminished; given the discoveries of the past hundred years, and the accelerating pace of innovation, who would bet against our ability to find another way?

In this context, scarcity is simply a lack of imagination. We fight with each other like seagulls over half an anchovy washed up on the beach, because we lack the imagination to dive beneath the waves and catch the delicacies swimming a few feet beneath.

Of course, some people see The Devil a little differently. In a speech given recently by Michael Crichton (nod to Tim Blair), The Devil's influence on science is explored.

I expected science to be, in Carl Sagan's memorable phrase, "a candle in a demon haunted world." And here, I am not so pleased with the impact of science. Rather than serving as a cleansing force, science has in some instances been seduced by the more ancient lures of politics and publicity. Some of the demons that haunt our world in recent years are invented by scientists. The world has not benefited from permitting these demons to escape free.

If you read the rest of Crichton's speech - and I certainly encourage you to do just that, because it's excellent - you'll see I've taken this passage wildly out of context. He really wasn't saying science is the problem, but rather that scientists who don't follow science may well be; scientists who play on the fears of the population at large to feed their own desire for influence or to prop up their own prejudices.

Personally, I think they're both right, and more. The Devil can be seen in economics, in science, in politics, and in the whole rest of our lives. The common thread is fear. Inasmuch as scarcity and lazy or misleading science encourage us to live our short, frantic lives in fear, they are made tools of evil. I'm not the first person to say that, and it's not particularly deep, but I think we need to be reminded of it from time to time.

I'm not a religious man, partly because I've always found organized religion falls back on fear all too quickly to motivate good behaviour. Fire and brimstone, the wrath of God, and bad little boys go to hell - not my idea of spiritual inspiration. But I do believe in God.

Some people think God is love. They certainly have a case, depending on how you define love. From The Screwtape Letters again:

Now the Enemy's philosophy is nothing more or less than one continued attempt to evade this very obvious truth. He aims at contradiction. Things are to be many, yet also one. The good of one self is to be the good of another. This impossibility he calls love, and this same monotonous panacea can be detected under all He does and even all He is - or claims to be.

Maybe when I'm finally in God's embrace, I'll agree with that perspective. Right now, as a mortal human being, my point of view is somewhat different.

I tend to think God can be most closely equated to hope. Hope is the opposite of fear. Hope inspires us. Hope draws us in the right direction emotionally and spiritually.

We don't know what tomorrow will bring. In a world full of bad things and bad people, each of us must find something, some piece of philosophical flotsam to cling to in order to get through the next day. For some, it's love; for others, it's faith; for me, it's hope.

So I won't enjoin you to love everybody. Smack an economist for me. Kick your nearest scare-mongering pseudo-scientist if the urge overwhelms you. But I will encourage you to hope every day for a better one to come, and work to make your hopes reality. In other words, screw the inspiration of The Screwtape Letters.

Babble off.

One less subscriber

Babble on.

Well, I just cancelled my National Post electronic edition subscription. Although I hopped around their website looking for a 'cancel subscription' option, I couldn't find anything of the sort.

Silly me, thinking that just because I subscribed online, I could cancel online.

Of course, when I finally picked up the phone and called to end the service, the service rep on the other end of the line couldn't have been nicer. Was there a specific reason I was cancelling? Honest answer or short answer, which do I pick...ah, short answer. I just wasn't reading it. Yes, please cancel today.

Truth be told, beyond the dismal Copps vs. Cosh choices The Post's editors have been making for months now, I don't find I can justify paying for much content these days. There really is a lot of good, free stuff on the net these days, in the blogs and out of them.

I'm not saying I won't buy a Post at the newsstand every now and then, but generally speaking, if I'm going to pay to play, the content has to be meatier - like The Economist. It might sound cheap, but I have better uses for even a measly $10 per month than paying for daily news and opinion when I've got my own healthy, hearty blogroll.

Who exactly is The Post's target demographic these days? When even a right-wing nutjob like me is fleeing their subscriber list, one wonders how much longer this paper can continue in its current form.

Babble off.

An important distinction

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Peter Bergen makes the point - made by many others (via Daimnation!) - that western nations, and the U.S. in particular are often more charitable towards Muslims in need than Muslims nations are:

Around the Islamic world it is common currency that Muslims are perpetual victims of Western and Zionist conspiracies. The bill of particulars includes the handling of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, Israel's inequitable treatment of the Palestinians, and the deaths of thousands of civilians in Iraq - as a result first of United Nations sanctions after the Gulf war, and more recently of the American occupation. The most articulate spokesman of such views is, of course, Osama bin Laden.

Yet when Muslims are suffering, it is usually the West, and often the United States, that takes the lead in helping.
This anemic effort on the part of the richest Islamic countries is emblematic of a wider political problem in the Islamic world. For all of the invocations by Muslim leaders of the ummah, or the global community of believers, they typically do little to help their fellow Muslims in times of crisis.

There's certainly some substance to the accusation. Another telling example - and one surprisingly overlooked by Bergen - is the slaughter of Sudanese muslims in Darfur. My posts in August of last year still hold true, though: the failure of Muslims and their governments worldwide to forgo demonizing Americans and Jews and support their co-religionists in times of crisis is shameful; but the real problem is one of poor governance of Muslim nations, not paucity of individual Muslims' charitable spirit.

While the citizens of a country can never fully escape responsibility for the actions of those they allow to govern them, there is inarguably a greater degree of separation between the people and the government in dictatorships than in democracies. It's intellectually lazy to equate corrupt, selfish, unprincipled Muslim rulers with the worldwide Muslim population.

On the other hand, it's telling that the American government, American businesses, and the American people all seem to be on the same page regarding disaster relief for tsunami victims - regardless of religion. Muslims, domestic and abroad, should take note.

Babble off.

Friday, January 07, 2005

Thinking about linking

Babble on.

Martin Street at Bounder of Adventure has undertaken a daunting task: to become "Your One Stop Shop for Right-of-Centre Canadian Commentary Since 2005." He's off to a promising start, with a pile of short posts linking to some great sites, and also one or two linking to my incoherent babblings. His blogroll is growing. I could be wrong, but it seems like he's aiming to become the Glenn Reynolds of the Great White North (ka-ROO-koo-koo-koo-KOO-koo-KOO!).

Good for him for taking on such an ambitious mandate. None other than Canadian blogospheric icon Jay Currie has noted that "we need a linker - we have plenty of thinkers..." and he's right.

Now, I understand that Mr. Reynolds doesn't limit himself to American news or American sites. In that context, looking for a Canadian linker carries the faint odour of Spectoresque CANCON. Having said that, even the trivial fact that I've spelled it 'odour' instead of 'odor' indicates there's a difference between Canadian blogging and blogging from wherever else - most notably from our southron neighbours. Babbling Brooks was on the receiving end of a small Instalanche a few weeks back, and the most interesting aspect of it for me - other than the cheap thrill of watching my sitemeter scroll like the odometer on a Ferrari at full throttle - was the number of Canadians who e-mailed me to say they'd only discovered the site through Reynolds' tiny link. A Canadian linking blog would help those interested in specifically Canadian punditry - whatever that means - to access it more easily.

But here's the catch: if you're going to be the Canuck Instapundit, you're going to be compared to Glenn Reynolds. Not fair, I know. He's an original. He posts at an inhuman pace, on all manner of topics, sick or well, with consistently professional commentary. It's like trying to be the 'next Michael Jordan'.

But that's the reality, fair or not. This is the same reason most Canadian TV shows tank about sixty seconds into the first episode - they don't stand a comparison to the New York / Hollywood programming we love to complain about, but watch all the same.

Does that mean a potential Canadian linker looking to serve Reynolds' function should aim to be Reynolds' clone? If you continue with the TV analogy, probably not. Corner Gas is one of the best comedies on television these days. It's very Canadian - in fact, it's almost hoserish in its Canadianism.

But - and I think this is the key, here - that's not all it is. Corner Gas is funny and quirky and smart and Canadian, all in equal parts, and it's successful as a result. Can you compare it to American shows? Sure, the same way you compare apples and oranges. It's just as entertaining, but in a different way.

So my completely unsolicited, but hopefully not unwelcome advice to any and all aspiring Canadian linkers, including the ambitious Mr. Street, is to defy the comparison to Instapundit. A linking site whose only unique offering is that it's Canadian will be a dismal failure. Link away to Canadian commentary to your heart's content, but keep it original. Search far and wide for maple-flavoured international news. Keep track of ex-pats who can offer an interesting perspective on Singapore from under a toque, for example.

A tough task, to be sure, but a valuable one that will garner a whole pile of support from the fledgling Canadian blogosphere, if my instincts are right.

Babble off.

"Remember, your aircraft was built by the cheapest bidder"

Babble on.

Welcome to the Upholder vs. L.A.-Class debate all over again.

The IL-76 is the only strategic airlifter available at a reasonable cost. Moving the equipment outlay for this strategic airlifter from DND to a Crown Corporation may seem rather like robbing Peter to pay Paul. The key advantage is that, as a non-military entity, this corporation is free to sell its services for profit when the aircraft are not required for use by the Canadian Forces or other government departments.

Let me summarize this proposal: we won't ever buy our military the best stuff, and buying even the cheapest stuff is a bit of a stretch, so let's sell the idea of strategic airlift to the mandarins in Ottawa by proposing to build our own cheap stuff and pay for it by pawning our surplus cheap stuff to the rest of the world, even though we have a $9B budget surplus this year.

I'm with Colin Kenny on this one. The only advantage the IL-76 has over the C-17 is price, and if you tell our uniformed Canadians that, once again, price is more important than value, don't expect them to remain in uniform much longer. They will only put their lives into the hands of the cheapest bidders for so long before they look for more meaningful employment elsewhere.

We can do better than thirty year old Soviet technology. In a rich and proud country like Canada, shouldn't that go without saying?

Babble off.


Babble on.

In recent months, I've often thought there's not a more underrated Canadian blogger - that is to say, a blogger whose traffic doesn't match the quality of his writing - than Matt Fenwick. That seems to be changing, as Matt received plugs from two high-volume, widely-respected sites yesterday.

So I'm going to bust my own arm reaching around to pat myself on the back by pointing out that my fourteenth post ever highlighted what a quality site Matt runs.

Years from now, when I'm sitting in a rocker on the porch of the retirement home, I'm going to tell new bloggers sitting at my knee that I knew Matt back when he was Jerry Aldini.

Babble off.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Wouldja shaddup fer one stinkin' minute?!

Babble on.

Tipping my fedora* to Bob at Canadian Comment, I ask you if there might be even one television executive in the whole wide world whose head is more than a well-coiffed hatrack?

Apparently there is, as Jonathan Klein, the just-out-of-the-wrapper-new CEO of CNN's U.S. network has refused to renew Crossfire host Tucker Carlson's contract:

"I doubt that when the president sits down with his advisers they scream at him to bring him up to date on all of the issues," he said. "I don't know why we don't treat the audience with the same respect."

How observant of you, Jon. I don't know why you don't either. Perhaps you could see your way clear to do something about that.

*You think I'm kidding about the fedora. Try being bald in the winter, and see what's available to wear with a suit. Besides, the ladies tell me they like it. They use words like 'rakish' and 'dashing'. Who am I to argue?

Babble off.

I shake my head

Babble on.

This Air Force is now this Air Force. And having worn the blue suit myself for a brief time, it makes me very angry.

Babble off.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Grief's maximum dosage

Babble on.

Josef Stalin once remarked famously that "one death is a tragedy; a million is a statistic." Unfortunately, Stalin was overly fond of statistics.

Some are beginning to believe God and Stalin might share this fascination with death. Personally, I find it puzzling that an event like the tsunami would shake the faith of a churchgoing man, when that same fellow has probably passed car accidents on the highway with nothing more than a momentary voyeristic horror-thrill. Intellectually, one death is far less earth-shattering than 100,000, but faith isn't essentially intellectual, is it?

It's impossible to grasp the significance of over 140,000 deaths from a single event. I don't generally like words like 'impossible' because they beg for an exception to topple them, but in this particular case, I believe it's the right term.

The media made a field day of the 1,000th U.S. serviceman's death in Iraq. Less than 3,000 souls lost on September 11th, 2001 sparked a worldwide war with battlefields from Afghanistan to Iraq to Spain to Indonesia. Yet most of us are at the point where an increase in the tsunami death-toll amounting to the combined total of 9/11 and the U.S. Iraq war-dead - 4,000 souls - wouldn't even elicit a response. 4,000 deaths is an acceptable margin of error for estimates today. If from now until the final butcher's bill is tallied, we see only another 4,000 dead, much of the world will breathe a sigh of relief and count its lucky stars things didn't end up worse.

If I told you tomorrow the toll had risen to 210,000 with the discovery of more villages completely wiped from the face of the earth, would your grief increase by 50% over today? Could it?

We lack perspective on this extraordinary event, because we lack the ability to postpone the self-defence mechanism of numbness indefinitely. Eventually, even the most sensitive of us develops some protective scar tissue over our hearts, because weeping uncontrollably for each and every one of the 140,000 who lost their lives would be too much to bear.

And so we pick up on individual stories, specific faces, particular circumstances and invest our grief in them.

Upon returning to work between the Christmas and New Year's breaks, I discovered that a young lady in my office lost family in the disaster. I can't imagine her panic when she first learned of the tsunami, trying desperately to make contact with loved ones. She finally tracked down her mother, her sister, and only three others in a refugee camp on the east coast of Sri Lanka. Our office has rallied to help her in whatever way we can - primarily financially, of course. The partners have pledged to match employee donations, and her co-workers have donated generously. Her gratitude is overwhelming - almost palpable - and heart-rending too, because it forcefully reminds you that the only difference between you and her is an accident of birth. There but for the grace of God...

Which brings my babbling back, via the most serendipitous of routes, to my central question: is the tragedy truly that much greater because of the sheer number of dead? If you believe suffering is quantifiable, then perhaps the answer is yes.

But would my co-worker's grief over her lost family be any less if only 100,000 had died with them, or 80,000, or 1,000, or even 100? Given the fact that I cannot properly empathize with each of the millions of mourning friends and relatives of the dead, my own reaction to the tragedy hinges on the few isolated scraps of information I can actually internalize. The bloodied face of a new orphan. The father wailing as he holds his lifeless child. The couple clutching each other as they're swept away in the flood.

I don't cry for the 1.5 million dead in two years as the black death swept medieval Europe. I don't cry for more than 100,000 Canadian war-dead, much as I honour their memory.

I cry only for that which I manage to understand on a personal level, and trying to let your heart feel 140,000 deaths is like trying to drink from a fire hose. You simply can't.

In the end, grief is personal, and each of us has only a finite capacity for the emotion. To the numbers, I'm overwhelmed and numb. My deadened sense of empathy recognizes only scraps of horror, now. And each time it does, that horror is for one person, not 140,000.

Babble off.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

On charity, criticism, and the tsunami disaster

Babble on.

Any time I receive criticism from someone whose opinions I generally respect, it's cause for reflection. My recent post comparing the corporate responses of the Royal Bank of Canada and Pfizer to the tsunami disaster garnered attention from both Matt Fenwick of Jerry Aldini (in my comments) and Kevin Jaeger at Trudeaupia (in his own post).

Matt's criticism seems best summed up by this question: we really want to foster an environment where corporate giving is a no-win situation (at least in terms of the optics)? I prefer the approach of the Sally Ann bell ringers: no matter what the donation, it's "Thank you", and "Merry Christmas".

Kevin is a little more pointed when he says:

And I think posts like this one [Babbler's as referenced above] dissing the Royal Bank particularly grate. I have no doubt the employees and shareholders of the Royal Bank are every bit as moved by the scale of the tragedy as I am. They are accepting donations from all of their branches where their customers will no doubt donate millions and they've kicked in $100,000 themselves so far. And who is to say that is all they will do or all they will give? As a bank they may reschedule or forgive loans in the affected countries, provide emergency loans and issue favourable terms for reconstruction. And who know what their thousands of employees and shareholders are doing individually? Their initial donation will save lives now and this is hardly something to criticize.

As usual, these two pundits have put some thought into the matter, and they certainly raise some valid concerns. I certainly don't want my post to contribute to a culture that discourages any kind of corporate giving because companies are 'damned if they do, damned if they don't.' And I don't want to minimize the fact that RBC made a contribution, however small in relative terms, because Kevin's right: it will save lives, and that's a good thing.

So here's a hearty cheer for all who contribute, to whatever degree, and in whatever capacity, whether as individuals, corporations, or groups of any kind. All help in a time of need must be appreciated.

There are a couple of points where I might disagree with Matt and Kevin, however.

First, relief for this disaster is not equivalent to sponsoring the 17th Annual Charity Golf Tournament for Literacy or some such 'ordinary' charitable effort. I thought I'd said as much when I stated that "for a cataclysm of unprecedented size, unprecedented measures are required." So in this particular case, I don't believe it's germane to look at the entire panoply of a company's charitable giving. In my opinion, this disaster falls outside of that scope. I think that should be true of individuals as well: just because you give to United Way, or sponsor someone in the Run For The Cure, doesn't mean you shouldn't dig into your wallet for this extraordinary event.

Second, I won't apologize for encouraging, cajoling, or shaming people or corporations into giving as much as they possibly can. I believe a capitalist society with a limited government, which I very much support, is balanced only by the compassion and charitable instincts of its citizenry. I also believe sometimes those charitable instincts need to be tweaked. Each of us as individuals has to battle our own selfish desires and everyday concerns to find it in ourselves to give. For corporations it's doubly difficult, for they have no conscience - although those who run them should - and they are beholden to shareholders to be somewhat selfish and return as handsome a profit as possible each year. The question of how exactly one should go about tweaking these instincts is open to debate, but I've chosen my method and gone about it here.

As a shareholder in RBC, as a lifelong customer of RBC, as a friend and relative of quite a number of RBC employees, and as a member of the society that has fostered the growth and profitability of RBC, I encourage those who make this sort of decision at RBC to rethink the size of the donation. I cajole them to look at their own bottom line and see if they can find some more cash under the mattress to contribue. And I shame them by pointing to a company like Pfizer and asking if they really want to get beat out by a company best known for putting some backbone into a man's frontbone.

I do all this not to be critical for the sake of being critical, but in the hopes that one of the few world-class companies in all of Canada will make us all even more proud by not only being a contributor, but being a world-class contributor to the relief efforts.

Babble off.

The Red Ensign Standard raised again

Babble on.

Jason at Musing has penned the 12th edition of the Red Ensign Standard. "Penned" is such an anachronistic term, but it somehow sounds much more personal than "typed", and it's in keeping with Jason's theme: back to basics.

Like me, the other Red Esign bloggers see Canada as a land blessed with unparalleled beauty, a wealth of natural resources, and - most importantly - a hearty, strong, welcoming, friendly population. From where I stand, in Alberta, I see a country that embraces its past and looks forward to a dynamic and exciting future. As a country, we recognize that our past has some warts with which we must contend. We admit that some choices we have made could have been handled better. However, despite the warts, we see a growing number of bloggers and general Canadian citizens recognizing that the core beliefs that built this country - personal responsibility, individual and religious freedoms, and a willingness to do the work yourself - were right and proper. More and more, we recognize that amidst the necessary growth and change associated with any culture, those core beliefs must be retained and strengthened to ensure this country remains great.

Well said, Jason, and well done.

Babble off.