Friday, June 19, 2009

Worst case

Thank you for arguing

I've long been dismayed with the local fixation on the "rant".  I enjoy Rick Mercer's take on the form but the amateur would-be ranters just don't get what it's all about.  A rant, properly executed, is a carefully structured, erudite, coherent, logical polemic.  It is not a simple spew of whatever is on one's mind.  If you want to see a true master of the form, I can think of none better than Keith Olbermann, an American talking head on MSNBC.  Check here and here for real jewels.

Related to the rant/spew confusion is the argument/fight confusion.  What brought this matter to a head in my mind is the latest Williams meltdown, this time live on VOCM, which many confused for an argument or dispute.  It was not.  It was a drive-by pie-toss at an unsuspecting pedestrian.

But the point of this post is not to dwell on the premier's semi-hysterical rhetorical media muggings but to point out that arguments are good things.  Arguments are how we make progress on issues and explore possible solutions.  Arguments are not disputes; arguments are how we resolve disputes.  Arguments are not fights and they are not personal.  People have the misconception that arguments should be avoided because they lead to conflict but in the hands of the sensible, they are resolutions to conflict.

I just came across this column, by Jay Heinrichs, the author of Thank You For Arguing (a book I highly recommend) which talks about how teaching your kids to argue diffuses conflict and encourages critical thought about even the most mundane things.  This article is sort of late for me because I've already stumbled through the rearing of my own children, making it up as I went along.  But I'm relieved that some of the principles I tried to set for my relationship with them is mirrored in many of the things Heinrichs writes here.

Imagine if more parents had followed the principles outlined here; how different our public sphere would be!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Dialing while pissed

Ever make a telephone call you later regretted? You know, call somebody up, say something intemperate and then hang up in a huff?

Ever do it while being Premier?

To a live talk radio show?

Well, Danny Williams did.

Listen right to the end to get the full effect.

Updates and commentary:
Here and

Monday, June 15, 2009

Iran election

One country I have yet to visit that I really want to visit is Iran. And the recent election, where Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was "reelected" in a landslide only makes me want to visit even more.

Iran has a unique political system with an elected secular component and a mullah-based component, led by Iran’s "supreme leader" Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, which dominates the elected side. It's a weird combination and balance of the democratic and the theocratic. Now the balance is out of whack and what's left is just weird.

The protests over the weekend calling for an investigation into potentially fixed results indicates that Iranians, the ones that live in Tehran anyways, are not satisfied to be ruled against their will be parochial religious conservatives. Latest news is that opposition leaders are banned from holding rallys and the leaders are under house arrest. It seems unlikely that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was "reelected"
with a 62% margin even in the hometown of the oppistion leader.

We can be cynical around here about elections but there are still parts of the world where people feel elections really mean something and that they have real impacts on their lives. The import attached to elections results can be huge because so much is at stake. Rather than contests between small variations of public policy or the cults of personality-based elections we see around here, in countries like Iran elections are battles of fundamental ideals and ideas. And people care. At least, they will care as long as they feel they have a chance to make a difference.

The situation in Iran is complex. Even the media-described "liberal" factions are, by our standards, more conservative than the average Canadian would feel comfortable with. I've read no calls for the dismantling of the religious-dominated system, only calls for the system to live up to what it has promised. It reminds a bit of the late 80s when Gorbachev called for a reform of the Communist state, not for up-ending it.

This is a story worth following.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Heading to Doha town

It’s 5:30am in St. John’s and I see the sun is shining bright through the skylights of Frankfurt airport. In 3 hours I have a flight to Doha, Qatar where I’ve been invited to judge the Qatari National Debate Trials. 90 students will compete for the opportunity to represent their country at the world’s level.

Regular readers will know that I have been heavily involved in debating at all levels as competitor, organiser and coach. So when this opportunity arrived through an email on Monday morning, those who knew me well weren’t surprised to see me boarding a plane on Wednesday noon for Doha.

This is not the first time I’ve travelled to parts unknown (to me, anyway) to help with debating. In ’88 and ’90 I travelled to the USSR to do much the same. Some people like to go abroad to dig wells, build clinics or other necessary infrastructure. I’m not very good at digging wells so I go abroad to build social and political infrastructure. Debating, at it’s core, is all about Freedom of Speech. And for me that’s the best Freedom ever! In fact it’s so good that it’s too good to keep to ourselves; I think everyone else should have it too.

Qatar does not show up in the lists of the most democratic or free countries out there. Compared to most Arab countries, it is very free. Compared to what we have in Canada, its stultifying. I don’t kid myself that student debate will start a revolution. But I do hope that if that revolution, or fundamental reform, finally comes, then I will have done some small bit to help some of the potential national leaders appreciate the value of verbal combat over martial combat.

I’m only in Doha for Friday and Saturday after almost 36 hours of travel each way. Still, never having been there is a good enough reason to go in my books.

Updates to follow!