Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Uniting the Left II

I've already posted my thoughts on this issue before and nothing since then has improved the idea.  It made sense for the PCs and Reform (or Alliance or whatever) to combine because they had been one party for most of the 20th century.  But even after merging they still can't seem to attract much more support than one-third of the population.

There are serious structual and political obstacles to a Liberal-NDP party merge and nothing I have seen, heard or read indicate that they are going away anytime soon.  A coalition government is much more likely and is the path of far lesser resistance in unseating the government which holds power today. 

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

More Political Health

I've commented from time to time on the mechanics of political health.  In this case I don't mean the health of the larger body politic but rather the health of bodies of politicians.  For example, the use of hand sanitizer during campaigns has been the subject of some commentary.  Some argue they are necessary to keep the politician from catching colds or worse while others claim that hand sanitizers insult voters.  Then there is the issue of eating on the campaign trail.  If you are what you eat then, at least on the campaign trail, politicians are entirely fats and carbohydrates.

But campaigns are only a product of deep preparation so it's only sensible that preparation starts with the bodies doing the running.  This article in the New York Times covers the issue of pre-campaign training and eating regimes which go on months before the formal campaigns start.

Running for office is like any other physical activity; diet plays a part.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Making government policy

Start with a cage containing five monkeys.

Inside the cage, hang a banana on a string and place a set of stairs under it. Before long, a monkey will go to the stairs and start to climb towards the banana. As soon as he touches the stairs, spray all of the other monkeys with cold water.

After a while, another monkey makes an attempt with the same result - all the other monkeys are sprayed with cold water. Pretty soon, when another monkey tries to climb the stairs, the other monkeys will try to prevent it.

Now, put away the cold water. Remove one monkey from the cage and replace it with a new one. The new monkey sees the banana and wants to climb the stairs. To his surprise and horror, all of the other monkeys attack him.

After another attempt and attack, he knows that if he tries to climb the stairs, he will be assaulted.

Next, remove another of the original five monkeys and replace it with a new one. The newcomer goes to the stairs and is attacked. The previous newcomer takes part in the punishment with enthusiasm! Likewise, replace a third original monkey with a new one, then a fourth, then the fifth. Every time the newest monkey takes to the stairs, he is attacked.

Most of the monkeys that are beating him have no idea why they were not permitted to climb the stairs or why they are participating in the beating of the newest monkey.

After replacing all the original monkeys, none of the remaining monkeys have ever been sprayed with cold water. Nevertheless, no monkey ever again approaches the stairs to try for the banana. Why not? Because as far as they know that's the way it's always been done round here.

And that, my friends, is how government policy is made. 

(not original to me but too good not to pass on)

Monday, November 16, 2009

Blogger wars

I've been closely watching the local blogger wars (and associated commentary) as seen here, here, here, here, here and here. This massive exchange demonstrates to me that it takes only the slightest spark to draw in all the pyromaniacs.

I have strong feelings about this mess and I know who I trust but I prefer to keep all of that sordid information to myself. Suffice it to say that I'm confident that the most sensible thought on the subject, albeit tangentially, was Russell Wangersky's.

What I will suggest to all parties is that some comments clearly showed the need for some coaching in some of the finer points of waging and winning an online war. As a public service, I point out this article from Wired, How to Win an Internet Flame War. Of course this article assumes anonymous players so I'm not sure how it applies to those wars where the players have at least a nodding acquaintance with each other.

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.