Bullet Points for a (I honestly had to look this up) Thursday Evening

  • There’s so much wrong with Conservatism in the US it’s hard to know where to start. Buuuuut I’ve got an analogy. Republicans are like medieval doctors. They’re not wrong: The west has been sold a bill of goods. There’s a disease. So they reach for the only tool in their toolbox, only problem being that tool just makes it worse. Trickle-down economics might as well be bloodletting. You don’t get there via evidence-based economic policy. You have to get there sideways via ideological orthodoxy. Medieval doctors had their humours, Republicans have their trickle down economics.
  • The was probably more evidence for humours tbqh.
  • Lots of chatter re virtue signalling lately, not all of it absolute trash. Most of it’s aimed at progressives (projection, motl). Was talking to an anti-deficit person earlier, saying Ontario is within sight of balancing the budget. The response was to move “so what” and then a move to different topic. But if you’re really a deficit hawk this is fantastic news! We’re trying to get out of this hole, to un-mortgage our children’s blah blah blah. But of course the anti-deficit stuff is just theatre. I haven’t found no sincere anti-deficit folks but few. Very few. I kind of think a lot of this is outrage theatre: You just want a stick to beat the Liberals with.
  • Same for anti-feminists outraged at how feminists are supposedly not outraged about Saudi treatment of women. Outrage theatre. Virtue signalling. Performative morality. They don’t care, they just want a stick.
  • Which is, by the way, a big part of why online debates don’t work, and why centrism is doomed. The stuff people say they care about is never actually what they actually care about.
  • By the way I do think the West has been sold a bill of goods. I don’t like protectionism, I don’t like globalism, I wish there was a third way. Whatever we’re doing now really isn’t working
  • Trump is a symptom.

These are the critical words

It is difficult to accept an error in judgement defence based essentially on a stubborn sense of entitlement … and a dismissive and confrontational attitude to the Integrity Commissioner and Code of Conduct.

That such words can be used to describe an elected official. Shameful.

No ideology but Christ

Having no ideology is hard, maybe impossible. Having no ideology but Christ is harder still.

Jesus does not filter his blessings through the mesh of conservatism, Keynesian fiscal policy, a particular political party, trickle-down economics, pulling yourself up by your bootstraps, or any of the political baggage you may have picked up from your parents, your region, or your county.

Jesus does not change the world through politics. He doesn’t change it through earthly power. He makes the world new by washing of regeneration. He changes hearts and minds with his blood. He doesn’t require the right political climate or ideological persuasion to do it. He makes the world new regardless.

Conflation of blessing with conservatism is sin. Conflation of blessing with anything other than Christ is sin. It is idolatry.

This is something that the church around the world needs to repent of. We need to repent of setting up false gods, false Christs, and seeking our blessings through them. Time and time again these false saviors fail to provide the ample blessings they promised. Time and time again we raise up new idols to replace the fallen.

It’s high time we learned that there is no true blessing and no true salvation outside of Christ, and started thinking about how to have no ideology but him.

Some thoughts about voting machines.

I don’t like voting machines. I don’t like electronic voting in general, at least as it’s implemented now.

Now, normally people who don’t like voting machines don’t like them because of Diebold, or their lackluster security, or their lack of a verifiable paper trail.

I don’t care much for those arguments. Diebold may indeed be trying to make a quick buck at the expense of the taxpayer with crappy machines that offer little security, can’t be audited, and don’t have a paper trail. Voting machines could indeed be improved in many ways to decrease the chance of tampering.

All those things could be fixed and the problem would remain. Electronic voting is centralised. It is efficient. And that’s the problem. Voting is one of the things in this world that we should absolutely not optimise.

Voting must be massively inefficient.

This is one of those times where efficiency should not be our first priority. Efficiency in voting introduces fragility into the system in the form of easy tampering. Contrast that with paper voting, which is fairly tamper-proof because it’s so gosh darn parallelised and inefficient.

It’s hard to mass tamper with paper ballots because of that lack of centralisation and the very real paper-trail.

It’s easy to mass tamper with electronic ballots. It’s just 0’s and 1’s.

What are these Values you speak of?

Maybe it’s me, but when someone says “value”, it’s impossibly vague.

I get it, you want a short-cut to mean “things I agree with and I think we should teach our kids”. But what are these values, exactly? Where do they come from? What do they mean?

The shortcut doesn’t help you there. Especially when you’re talking to people who might not even agree with what your values are. You say values, you mean one thing, they think another thing.

Maybe we should all just throw out that world. Let it mean something about data and databases and command lines. Let the values fall where they may.

Instead, let’s talk about actual values. Concrete values. Individually, and not as a group. There are important concepts here that need discussing. Respect for human life. Whether the group or the individual takes precedence. How to respond to authority. And so on.

I know it’s easier to just say “values”. It’s a wink and a nod. It’s code. But remember, we don’t all speak in the same code. In my social circle there may be a person who believes (sidenote: this person is wrong) that capital punishment is a good idea, and another person who believes that it is a crime on the level of aborting a child. They both talk about “values”. They both talk about how they wish to safeguard human life. They both speak the same language, but they mean very different things.

You may find when you define your terms that a lot of people pop out of the woodwork (suddenly, to your mind) who disagree with you. (You probably, on some level, already know this; this is one reason you use the code.) But then, this is healthy. Diversity breeds strength. Mono-cultures are fragile. Group-think that tolerates no divergence is brutality.

We need our conservatives, our liberals, our democrats, our socialists. We need different moral and political values. We need to remember that if there is one right way to live, we need the conversation in order to get there.

A short note about politics

Tommy Douglas was an adult. Richard Allen is an adult. Leo Kennedy was an adult. Naomi Klein is an adult.

I make a short list to make a short point: Socialists and social democrats aren’t children waiting to grow out of their foolish adolescence and into the glorious light of neo-conservatism.

There’s really nothing more condescending and insulting than to tell a person they’ll change their mind about their politics when they get older or “grow up”.

Maybe I’ll change my mind about some stuff. I probably will. But I don’t lazily drift in and out of philosophies based on my pocketbook.

Yes. I want an election.

The media (pardon the pejorative) has been going into “Wah! No-one wants an election! It’s expensive! Wah!” mode lately. Sometimes I (unfortunately) listen to 680 News in Toronto, or read the Toronto Sun (mostly to see if they can continue their record streak of taking truly horrific photographs of truly undesirable women in bikinis). This is their dominant theme right now. Which, I mean, I understand. They’re both right-leaning hack-or-faux-journalism outlets, and if an election takes the focus away from talking (ad nauseam, for years on end) about how the Toronto Maple Leafs/Toronto Raptors/Toronto Football Club suck at their respective sports, or what reality television show cast member has been ousted (for being a giant douche-bag) or which reality show cast member has “won” (by being a giant douche-bag), or which hare-brained scheme out local gas-bag politician, Giorgio Mammoliti, wants to use to make some quick cash for the city… well, anything else is bad for business.

Okay, so the above paragraph is just a little P. J. O’Rourke impression. Pretty unbearable, right? But, seriously folks:

I want an election. I really do. I get to voice my opinion on the state of the country, have my voice heard, and cast my ballot. This doesn’t happen often. In fact in this country I very rarely get to be involved in the political apparatus. In an election, I can. And I will.

Canada has one of the most fair and one of the cheapest elections in the world. Did you know that? It costs roughly $8.50 per person per Federal election. That’s less than the price of a (cheap) movie ticket. That’s the price you pay for our kind of democracy. And the media would have you believe that’s too high a price to pay.

It’s really, really not.

This year I’m going to be reading the positions papers of all the parties. I’m leaning toward voting NDP. As far as I can tell the Conservatives (not the Progressive Conservatives of years past, but a new name on the Reform party, the most wretched of far right-wing, reactionary, xenophobic, homophobic, anti-education, anti-union, pro-gun, Leave It To Beaver trips back to the Fifties (ten points if you get the reference)) are in the pocket of business, of at least consider “the economy” as a whole more important than individuals as people who need to be able to afford to live. The Liberals are something, but no-one is quite sure what that thing is; they had a pretty good run under Jean Cretien, who was a decent leader, but they seem rudderless at the moment. The Bloq doesn’t have an candidates in my riding, so I can’t vote for them (though if there were an Ontario party looking to excise my province from the rest of the country, or at least expel Alberta from the Confederation, I’d vote for that). The NDP though, despite it’s union roots, seems focused on the plight of the everyman, which is a good thing. Plus they’re the only party to have a decent tech platform. And they’re not beholden to the titans of industry. And Jack Layton seems like pretty upstanding and principled guy.

That said, I’m going to figure out who I’m voting for, and then vote. I’ll add my voice to the pack. I’ll be happy to do it. An election every 2 years is a small price to pay for the democracy we all seem to take for granted. Imagine the people of Egypt looking down on you when you complain about the cost. At least you didn’t have to have a revolution.

A house divided cannot screw anything up.

Here in Canada, we have an election approximately every two years or so. This is because we have a minority government. The Conservatives (who are actually called what they are here) got less that 50% + 1 in the last few elections, so they basically have to work together with the other parties to get things done.

This of course means that not a whole lot gets done. Or at least when things are done, they’re driven to the ideological centre instead of the comparatively hard right where The Right Honourable Stephen Harper would, I think, gladly bulldoze us.

It’s a good thing. The various parties dangle the spectre of election in front of eachother, everyone goes home suitable angry and frightened, and the secretaries and bureaucrats who actually do things do things. There is no radical, decisive action, everything is completely gridlocked, and the boat doesn’t get rocked.

This is, I think, how government should be. It should be a lot slower than it is to make big decisions. Take, for instance, the American PATRIOT act (another in a long series of American legislation named the opposite of what they actually are). It was obviously sitting in a drawer somewhere, waiting to be trotted out at the appropriate moment. Should it have waiting a while so cooler heads could prevail? I think so. It’s a bad piece of legislation written by people who are very much not the patriots they think they are.

In this sense, the Republican victory this year is a good thing. There will be no groundswell of liberal or conservative change. The two parties will dangle the “American public” and the “mandate” they received in front of eachother, everyone will go home suitable angry and frustrated, the Democrats to their secret Communist societies, and the Republicans to their secret extra-marital homosexual trysts, and the secretaries and bureaucrats who get things done will get things done.

It’s a beautiful thing.

A Post About Politics (In Toronto)

Yeah, I know, this comes out of nowhere. I’m not exactly active in politics. I don’t care for the ceaseless posturing and partisan bickering that goes on even here in sedate, boring old Canada. Not to mention that I live in Mississauga, and this post is about Toronto. This isn’t even a post about hot-button issues. It’s about local, municipal politics.

I want to talk about the Toronto mayoral race.

With Rob Ford with a large lead in the polls, I think it’s clear that there’s a leadership vacuum in Toronto. Have you ever dug into the man’s history? He’s a bully and more than a bit of a dimwit. That such a politician, whose policies are based on what he calls the “anger” of Torontonians, can be in the running for anything at all… it astounds me. He looks and sounds like he just rolled out of a bar in the morning. He says things that would put even the venerable Mel Lastman–the man who tried to re-unite the Spice Girls, mind you–to shame.

This week he suggested that we do marathons in parks, not on city streets. So we don’t have to close down roads. Um… what? If Mr Ford can’t put himself in a runner’s shoes (pardon the pun), which he clearly hasn’t done in some time, if ever, and begin to fathom what a very bad idea running a marathon in a park is, how can he be expected to lead an entire city? It’s ridiculous sound bytes like this that make him look like a class A moron.

As for the “anger” that Mr Ford claims is out there? I don’t see it. It’s another manufactured narrative that doesn’t exist. If there is any anger, it’s only in suburban Toronto, where they don’t like their mini-highways closed for any reason. It makes it hard to get the Doritos from the convenience store!

That’s not to lessen the burden of blame on the rest of that sorry bunch. How has Mr Smitherman not leveraged his position in provincial politics to take the Toronto leadership bull by the horns? Why isn’t he out there making noise? All I hear about is Ford, Ford, Ford, and you’ll forgive me if I’d rather hear from the catcher and not the pitcher. And why has Rocco Rossi not changed his name so he doesn’t sound like A) a mobster, or B) a pizzeria? It doesn’t seem like a lot of effort comes from the other camps. And until the other candidates manufacture their own narrative, they’re not going to get anywhere.

But I have an idea. It’s American-style, so we might not all like it, but remember that Toronto is a “world class city” nee constantly-surprised-that-a-celebrity-would-visit-our-quaint-little-town!

Let’s go negative. It’s not that hard. Mr Ford doesn’t stand for anything in particular (it’s a miracle he can stand at all, frankly), and he’s basically taking the election by pointing at his chins and telling us how cute they are, so let’s take it one step further. If Mr Ford has made the election about Mr Ford, let’s help make the election even more about Mr Ford. Let’s make the election about how Mr Ford can’t reliable walk and chew gum at the same time. How he’s kind of like that embarrassing kid who always says something stupid when there’s a gap in the conversation. Let’s make the election about Mr Ford’s past leadership style and how many enemies he’s made over the years. Let’s make the election about how Mr Smitherman, by contrast, can walk and chew gum at the same time. It’s not a lot, but it’s not nothing, and it’s sure better than Mr Ford.

With five weeks to go, I think that’s how you’re going to have to win it, boys.

So have at it.

We’re disappointed with Obama. Here’s why.

Now, I’m no American. I’m apparently pretty close (I’m Canadian) but honestly, a lot of the stuff that goes on south of the border mystifies me. One thing we could all get behind here in Canada was that Barack Obama wasn’t white, was the underdog, and wasn’t George W. Bush. He seemed different. He seemed to believe in change. He seemed to want to run Washington differently. He seemed… fresh, unlike the string of tired politicians and has-beens both the Republicans and Democrats have been dragging up from the bottom of the barrel lately.

And then he won. It was hard not to get caught up in the groundswell of optimism. It was hard to not feel the great thrill of the victory, the inauguration, the speeches. I don’t usually get swept away with the crowds of hero-worshippers, but even I felt it. It was an almost magical time.

Reality always gets in the way though. There has been a wave of disappointment at Mr Obama’s handling of… well, almost anything. As a liberal, I’m disappointed; as a realist I’m not really surprised.

Let me sketch out a few reasons I’m disappointed in particular and liberals are disappointed in general.

We wanted something to wash the taste of George W. Bush out of our mouth. Instead we got George W. Bush 2.0.

Civil liberties. Warrantless wiretaps. Surveillance on citizens. Guantanamo Bay. The slow erosion of the right to privacy. These are some of the reasons we disliked Mr Bush. (Quite apart from his general buffoon-like public appearance.) And we came into Mr Obama’s administration thinking that was all going to change.

Of course, it didn’t change. Guantanamo Bay is still open. Civil liberties are still being pissed upon. The right to privacy is denied and privacy itself is disappearing. Warrantless wiretaps are still happening.

And Mr Obama is using the same legal language, the same arguments to continue these policies. We have a strange continuity between administrations that gives lie to the chant of “change”. There’s no change. It’s business as usual. Nero is gone, but the human torches are still burning.

We wanted wars to end. Instead we got two wars that aren’t ending.

The Iraq war was a huge, awful blemish on the already-soiled presidency of Mr Bush. No one really knows why the war was fought. No one really understands the motivations of Mr Bush or those people controlling him. All we know is that many bald-faced lies were told to start the war. A national tragedy was exploited to start the war. Sons, daughters, parents, grandparents: People of all stripes died in the way. And for what reason? No one knows. We can only guess.

It sounds like something out of 1984. It really does. We have always been at war with Iraq; and for a long time it seemed like we always were going to be at war with Iraq. And we just wanted it to end. I can’t speak for Americans, but from what I’ve read and from what I can imagine there was a nationally-felt sense of fatigue. The war that would not end needed to end, and soon.

Mr Obama promised that the war would be over. He said he would withdraw troops from Iraq. Yet here we are, and the war hasn’t ended. The troops are still there.

Not only that, but Mr Obama is sending more troops to Afghanistan! So instead of one war, there are two wars, neither of which seems likely to end soon.

We wanted fiscal discipline. Instead we got a radical increase in spending.

The jury is still largely out on whether stimulus helps or hinders an economy. Yet here we are spending (literally) trillions of dollars on stimulus, which has to be the most incredibly inefficient way to get an economy going every invented.

Add to that a badly-timed health care plan, and suddenly Mr Bush’s spendthrift ways seem again like a pattern Mr Obama is continuing. Instead of change, instead of a move towards austerity and fiscal constraint, we have a runaway train of spending that becomes more difficult to stop with every passing budget. (Pardon the pun.)

Our children will have to pay for our spending. Maybe their children’s children as well. They’re going to pay with coin or with collapse, but they will pay.

We should be looking at austerity measures Germany is so fond of. We should be adopting a posture of shoring up the fundamentals of the economy instead of plugging every hole in the dam with cash. We run the very real risk of developing an economy so addicted to the feedback loop of federal and state money that it can’t develop an innovate on its own (and I say this as a Canadian whose economy has been like this for decades; we a very, very low comparative productivity rate in Canada and I have a sneaking suspicion this might be way).

We should be adopting that posture of repayment long before reaching crises like Greece and Spain have been seeing. I don’t think the US will change until things become unbearably bad, but a visionary leader who wants change should probably be able to see at least that far ahead and be able to sell austerity to a waiting nation.

We wanted reform with teeth. Instead we got compromise and pandering.

I’m not going to say the Republicans are without fault here. They almost never are. This time around Republicans have taken a turn for the crazy, with birthers, and tea partiers, and Sarah Palin, and all sorts of crazy leaking out from under the floorboards. But the one thing that’s really characterized the Republicans during this administration is no willingness at all to play nice. No bipartisanship whatsoever. They oppose everything Mr Obama does, and this makes is hard to do things. So we need to compromise.

Good government is not made of compromise, just like good products are not designed by committee. There is no bravery in compromise, no radical break with the past in compromise, there is no glory in compromise. What compromise does have, though, is less risk.

You know, I’m going to say that it’s better to go big and fail than to go middle-of-the-road and succeed. It’s better to try to do the right thing than try to do the popular thing, or the easy thing, or the politically expedient thing.

You’re always going to have a hard congress to deal with. But that doesn’t mean you get to compromise on everything. You don’t get to give the farmhouse away but keep the silos.

We got more of the same.

Mr Obama promised not to be more of the same. Yet here he is, more of the same.

This is horrible in two different ways. First of all, he’s made a liar out of himself.

But to add insult to injury, with that he’s also proven himself to be every bit the “politics as usual” politician, who will say anything, promise anything, to get into power. And then when in power try desperately to hold onto it.

That’s why I’m deeply disappointed in Mr Obama. Not because he didn’t live up to the hype and the euphoria, but that he didn’t even try.