Tall, Dark, and Mysterious

11/5/2005

I’ve known politicians, and you, Mr. Martin, are no politician

File under: Character Writ Large, Home And Native Land, I Read The News Today, Oh Boy. Posted by Moebius Stripper at 10:25 pm.

Our poor Prime Minister - even when he wins, he loses:

Canadian voters have forcefully rejected Mr. Justice John Gomery’s exoneration of Prime Minister Paul Martin for the sponsorship scandal in a new poll that vaults the Conservatives in front of the Liberals for the first time since last spring.

You know, this never would have happened under a Chretien government. Because Chretien’s bumbling-fool act was just that: an act. He wasn’t such a…such a bad politician that he’d ever openly and repeatedly declare his innocence when implicated in a scandal, offer himself to be judged by the courts, be exonerated, and then somehow get slaughtered in the polls anyway. Seriously, how uncharismatic do you have to be to have people hate you even more after they receive evidence that you didn’t do the thing they hated you for in the first place? (Mind you, there’s a simpler explanation for these poll results: Canadians aren’t favouring the Conservatives because of Gomery; they’re favouring the Conservatives because the Conservative leader haven’t been talking very much lately. That party’s failure to stick to that winning strategy during actual campaigns is what causes their numbers to plummet in the weeks leading up to elections. See also: federal elections, 2004, 2000.)

Under a Chretien government, this wouldn’t have gone to the courts in the first place. It would have spent a few days, maybe a few weeks, in the news. There’d've been some murmurs about a sponsorship scandal at some point, and then Chretien would have dismissed them. He’d have been hounded by reporters for a few minutes, and he’d have made some statement of the form, “Geeez, are you still thinking about this? Get over it! So someone didn’t keep track of some money a few years ago. Who cares? Geeeez!” This statement would have gotten a lot of airplay, and then Canadians would have spent a few days, maybe a few weeks, reacting indignantly: The arrogance! Can you believe it? Our prime minister is such a disgrace! And then something else would have bumped this complete non-issue off the front pages. No one would have even thought of calling, or demanding, a snap election. A few months or years later, there’d have been another election anyway, and Canadians from Newfoundland to British Columbia would have gone on and on about how they couldn’t stand that fool, Chretien, but then they’d have given him another majority government anyway.

The reason that Chretien had no trouble winning majority governments and (grudging) support, while Martin is struggling mightily in both areas, isn’t because scandals came to light during the Martin years, while the Chretien government was scandal-free. Oh, no - apparently there’ve been enough scandals during the Chretien years to fill a book. But the first line of the single review of that book, from one Brent Colbert, says it all: Just finished this book and couldn’t believe how many of the scandals I had forgot over the last decade. Oh, Brent, we’ve all forgotten them. We’ve forgotten them because Chretien, unlike Martin, had taken to heart the first fundamental rule of high school debating, which is this: you must concede nothing to the opposition. Even when they’re right. Especially when they’re right. When your opponents accuse you of, say, corruption or fiscal mismanagement, you obviously don’t confess. Everyone knows that. Less obvious is the fact that you also shouldn’t deny it. Because when you deny it, you’re agreeing with your opponents in that corruption or fiscal mismanagement is wrong. You’re handing them that point, and they will run with it. The best strategy, as we learned from the Right Honourable Mr. Chretien, is to roll your eyes and call your opponents stinky poo-poo heads. You’re above their stinky poo-poo head accusations, and you don’t want to talk about them anymore. And poof! Those accusations don’t spend six months on the front pages of newspapers, and you win.

Maybe I’m giving the guy too much credit. Maybe he was simply, as many people said, inarticulate. Maybe it wasn’t a strategic evasion of big questions so much as an accidental avoidance of them that kept his scandals off the front pages and his ass in the prime minister’s office.

But in that case, more power to him. Man was a born politician. You can’t teach that sort of talent.

(Looking for intelligent commentary about the sponsorship scandal and Gomery inquiry? Declan’s got it. In general, if you’re ever looking for commentary about Canadian politics or journalism from someone who knows what’s going on, and who can get through a sentence without snark, you’re a lot better off reading him than me.)

9/15/2005

Let’s reject Sharia, but treat women like second-class citizens anyway

I know I have a lot of non-Canadian readers whose exposure to Ontario news is limited to what they read on this blog, so after last week, many of them might have been left with the impression that Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty isn’t an absolute tool. And even though TD&M isn’t a political blog, I really can’t allow that assumption to stand. Because, see, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty is an absolute tool, despite some lapses of character a few weeks ago.

The background is this: in 1991, Ontario started allowing various flavours of faith-based arbitration - a system of religiously-based civil courts, superceded by Ontario civil law, which members of various religions could voluntarily enter to settle disputes. Since then Ontario has had a number of such courts, including the Jewish Bet Dins, and a Catholic system that had the power the annul marriages. And this system was so successfully integrated into the civil justice system that hardly anyone in Ontario even knew it existed, let alone complained about it.

Fast forward a decade and change, when the Canadian Islamic Congress started floating the possibility of introducing Sharia courts as a means of settling disputes among Muslims who wanted their own faith-based system. Suddenly, faith-based courts were in the news - and many of the most vocal, most articulate opponents of the proposed Ontario sharia courts were Muslim women themselves, many of whom were refugees who had escaped from Sharia-style “justice” overseas.

At the centre of this debate was Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, who had the power to accept or reject the Sharia courts.

I watched with detached interest to see how this would be resolved. In Canada, multiculturalism is valued to the point that no elected official, even one as duplicitous as McGuinty, would publicly make a statement that could be construed as valuing one religion over another.

And, sure enough, this played out in a quintessentially Canadian way, with a heaping serving of self-righteousness and sexism on the side.

Earlier this week, after weathering dozens of protests across Canada and public statements against sharia, McGuinty scrapped the proposed courts - along with the other religious courts that had existed for a decade and a half without problems.

McGuinty insisted Sunday his government wasn’t taking away rights from Christian and Jewish groups because it was afraid to give similar rights to Muslims after claims that Shariah law was, at its heart, unfair to women.

In other words, even though he’s following the advice of the anti-Sharia protesters by scrapping the plans for those courts, it’s not like he’s, God forbid, listening to them. Despite the fact that, well, every single one of the Sharia protests was led and supported by people who were concerned that Sharia was, at its heart, unfair to women - don’t worry, that’s not why McGuinty is rejecting the idea! He’s not concerned with that girly stuff! It’s not like he’s a feminist or anything!

Why is he rejecting the Sharia courts?

“The debate over Shariah law has caused us to ask a pretty fundamental question: Can religious arbitration be part of a cohesive multicultural society? It’s become apparent to me that it cannot,” he told The Canadian Press.”

Except that, well, that was never the question. At least not until McGuinty asked and answered it all in one fell swoop, causing defenders of the already-existing faith-based courts to wake up, rub their eyes, and wonder if they slept in an extra few days because when they went to sleep, no one was even talking about their courts.

But worry not! McGuinty does take women’s concerns into consideration when making decisions:

The premier said his wife, Terri, had not raised the sharia law issue with him during the lengthy debate, but noted the 17 women in his Liberal caucus urged him to reject the idea.

His wife. For weeks he completely ignored the concerns of seventeen elected members of his caucus, but if only his wife, an elementary school teacher, had broached the subject with him, maybe he’d have changed his mind. And those seventeen caucus members weren’t wondering whether religious abitration could be part of a cohesive multicultural society - they were objecting to the sharia courts on the grounds that they were discriminatory. Which is just a side issue to that “pretty fundamental question”. If that. (Thanks to wolfangel for highlighting that gem.)

I’ve got plenty of other thoughts on this issue - in short, I think that this “all or nothing” approach to religious arbitration is a cop-out, and doesn’t recognize the fact that many aspects of religion, can, and should, be evaluated on their own merits, and the divide between Religious Practices and A Secular Society is an artificial one, and anyone who disagrees with me can put their money where their mouth is by dipping into their own holiday time to take Christmas off, and don’t even try to tell me that Christmas is a secular holiday - but really, I think this is quite enough for now.

In the meantime, we can all commend Dalton McGuinty for his devotion to equality, and to one law for all. Previously, many Canadians were concerned that Muslim women would not be respected as equals in the Sharia courts, and that their concerns would be dismissed. McGuinty, however, has assured us by his actions that the concerns of all women, including those in his own caucus, would be dismissed equally.

7/9/2005

My country, timid and unsure

Meanwhile, back in the homeland, we have apparently learned the finer points of how to convict loathesome pieces of shit for hate speech by studying the materials used to prepare debutantes for matriculation from the nation’s top finishing schools. Really, we’re just that polite: witness [part of] Judge Marty Irwin’s explanation for convicting David Ahenakew of hate speech and stripping him of his membership in the Order of Canada:

[Irwin] noted that, rather than being “timid, unsure or rattled,” Ahenakew’s demeanour “bordered on self-confidence to the point of arrogance.”

Sure, Mr. Ahenakew, you openly and publicly declared that Hitler was just helping rid his neighbourhood of the “Jewish disease” when he “fried six million of those guys”, and you appear to have appointed yourself the official spokesperson for the updated edition of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and for that we’ll take back your medal and fine you a thousand bucks, but - self-confidence? Arrogance? Failure to be rattled by criticism? Heavens above, that’s just unCanadian!

5/7/2005

Hot electoral reform

File under: 1000 Words, Character Writ Large, Home And Native Land, I Read The News Today, Oh Boy. Posted by Moebius Stripper at 1:51 pm.

While I was on the plane the other day, the Vancouver Sun left a message on my phone. They’d like to print my letter to the editor about their inept coverage of the referendum on electoral reform, and could I please confirm authorship and provide a photo? I’m not about to turn down an editorial board’s offer to expose their entire readership to my snark, so I phoned back and left a message, at around 5:30 Vancouver time, on May 4: yes, I said, I’d written the letter; but I didn’t have a photo for them.

My letter did not run on May 5. Nor did it run on May 6. Today’s issue ran several STV-related letters, and mine was not among them. (Maybe they print extra letters in the paper copy? I’m out of town, so I haven’t checked.) I concluded that the photo was the dealbreaker, which struck me as odd, until I remembered that one of the reasons British Columbians don’t know much about the single transferable vote is that voting theory isn’t a very sexy topic.

Which topics are sexy enough for news coverage? Let’s check the front page of Thursday’s issue of the Ottawa Citizen to find out:

Prostate cancer is sexy!

Leaving politics to care for one’s sick wife isn’t so sexy, but it’s important enough to be in the paper that serves the MP’s constituency -

However, golf is sexy!

I figure I could make my way onto the letters page with my dull electoral reform/media dysfunction letter if I submit an appropriate self-portrait. Some ideas:

  • Moebius Stripper posing in an extravagantly padded bra and miniskirt
  • Moebius Stripper provocatively licking her referendum ballot
  • Moebius Stripper winking and holding a package of condoms, along with a sign reading “STV’s…not STD’s!”

Though even those, I reckon, couldn’t compete with Carmen Electra and Cindy Crawford. Pamela Anderson, however, is a native British Columbian; perhaps we could get her behind the cause. (Lately she’s been speaking out against KFC’s treatment of chickens; some readers of the National Post wrote in about this, which gave the editors an excuse to print a huge photo of Pamela Anderson on the letters page.)

In related news: my mail-in voting package arrived in the mail the other day. It’s like a grab-bag of goodies: the package contains a pamphlet outlining the procedure for voting; the two ballots (one for the election, one for the referendum); a certification envelope; a plain secrecy envelope; and a SASE. Voting requires me to put the ballots inside the secrecy envelope inside the certification envelope inside the SASE, which delights me more than it ought to. Three envelopes! Who knew democracy could be so much fun?

5/2/2005

Update: Electoral reform is, like, boring. And hard.

The Vancouver Sun has another useless article about how damned little British Columbians know about the single transferable vote system. How little is little? Well, 39% of the electorate claims to know “very little” about STV, while 25% knows “nothing at all”. The vice president of polling company Ipsos-Reid suggests some reasons for this, namely: STV isn’t “sexy or interesting”; anyone (anyone!) who looks into it finds STV to be “very complicated”; and - my favourite! - “There hasn’t been enough media coverage to create a buzz, and even people looking for information might not find enough to make an informed decision.” One wonders if the journalists who find these things out just nod sadly - hmm, not enough media coverage. Crying shame, that, but not much WE can do - and then ferret out another poll about how little the unwashed masses, with their lack of information and access to media coverage, know about stuff.

But the kicker was that right beside this dreck was a shorter, better piece (not available online, of course) about how in Victoria, James Hansen, a fourth grade teacher with a Master’s in political science or somesuch, had taught his students about the very complicated STV system by having them vote on the class hamster’s name - first via the first-past-the-post system currently in use in BC, and then by STV. No word on how sexy the fourth-graders found STV, but they certainly seemed to find it interesting enough, and the consensus appeared to lean strongly in its favour. The article was filled with all sorts of great quotes from kids, most along the lines of “I liked this way of voting because even though the hamster didn’t get the first name I wanted, I got to pick a second choice.” I wish I could have run this sort of thing in my math classes - that right there, that’s a real-life application of math. CBC did something similar, with the smoothly run, and very clearly illustrated Ice Cream Election. (Double Double Chocolate, Mint Chocolate Chip, and Vanilla were chosen, beating out crappy flavours like Peanut Butter Chocolate and Vanilla Cheesecake; this somewhat boosts my faith in my province’s electorate.) Anyway, my point is: the mechanics of hamster naming and ice cream choosing are apparently beyond the intellects of nearly two thirds of British Columbians of voting age, as well as The MediaTM.

Anyway, I fired off a snarky missive to the Vancouver Sun telling them that they should get Hansen on their staff; let him demystify this big, scary referendum for the ignorant voters who can’t find enough information about STV. Better yet, let’s get freelance jobs for his students, who seem to have a leg up on some 64% of people who are actually eligible to vote this month, and who could probably give a halfway decent explanation of electoral reform in simple language. Maybe I should rethink my general reluctance to teach little kids. Might as well teach them about the democratic process before they’re too old to understand it.

[Related, sort of: registering to vote by mail-in ballot is less of an ordeal than I expected. Not sure how good a thing that is, considering. And, although I said so in the comments - right now, I am quite sure that I will vote in favour of STV.]

4/30/2005

Anyone want my old copy of Achtung Baby?

File under: Character Writ Large, Home And Native Land, I Read The News Today, Oh Boy. Posted by Moebius Stripper at 12:40 pm.

As the band launched into OneBono urged fans to climb up and sing with him. “One love, one life, when it’s one need, in the night,” Bono cried out. “This audience, this generation, has had enough. Enough! Enough of despair! No more! So Paul Martin, I’m calling you!”

I can’t even mock this, for so perfectly does it embody the Platonic ideal of self-parody that anything further I could say or write would only serve to dilute it. Truly. Even the doe-eyed actors in Team America weren’t such sycophants. Or such puppets.

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