banner photo:

"Each individual should allow reason to guide his conduct, or like an animal, he will need to be led by a leash."
Diogenes of Sinope

Banner photo
Thousand Flowers tapestry (15th Century) - Beaune, France (detail)

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Paper or plastic? The answer isn't so obvious

The City of San Francisco has again hopped on the green bandwagon and banned plastic bags from grocery stores, apparently ending the "paper or plastic" debate on behalf of its citizens. Who could argue with this decision? Plastic is bad, right? Paper is biodegradeable, so it's better, right? Not necessarily. Before Canadian municipalities start enacting similar policies, let's take a look at some facts.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the US provides some information on the paper vs plastic debate:

  • Paper sacks generate 70 percent more air and 50 times more water pollutants than plastic bags.
  • 2000 plastic bags weigh 30 pounds, 2000 paper bags weigh 280 pounds. The latter takes up a lot more landfill space.
  • It takes 91 percent less energy to recycle a pound of plastic than it takes to recycle a pound of paper. It takes more than four times as much energy to manufacture a paper bag as it does to manufacture a plastic bag. Energy to produce the bags (in British thermal units): Safeway plastic bags: 594 BTU; Safeway paper bags: 2511 BTU.
  • Current research demonstrates that paper in today's landfills does not degrade or break down at a substantially faster rate than plastic does. In fact, nothing completely degrades in modern landfills due to the lack of water, light, oxygen, and other important elements that are necessary for the degradation process to be completed.

A study done in 1990 by Franklin Associates came to similar conclusions:

Plastic bags, having less mass than paper, produce less solid waste. At current recycling rates two plastic bags produces 14 g of solid waste while one paper creates 50 g. Two plastic bags produce 72% less solid waste than their paper bag equivalent. As the recycling rate increases, postconsumer waste decreases accordingly, so if 25% more bags are recycled, the solid waste decreases by 25%. Every recycled bag avoids contributing to postconsumer solid waste. However when recycling rates increase, pre-consumer solid waste increases for plastic though it decreases for paper. Still because paper creates substantially greater quantities of solid waste, two plastic bags never surpass a third of the solid waste from one paper bag.

For atmospheric waste, again plastic produce substantially less pollutants. In comparing the bags, two plastic bags produce 1.1 kg while one paper bag produces 2.6 kg. As the recycling rate improves, paper bags produce half as much atmospheric waste, but never better than two plastics. At best a paper bag still produces 35% more atmospheric waste. Again, despite the recycling rate, two plastic bags always create less airborne pollution.

Waterborne pollutants are high for a paper bag. Waterborne waste consists of pollutants which harm ecosystems. Two plastic bags account for only seven percent of the waterborne waste of one paper sack. Where paper produces 1.5 g, plastic produces 0.1g. Furthermore, as recycling increases, a paper bag's waterborne waste increases. The additional waste is from reprocessing paper product. Because of this, in terms of waterborne waste, plastic will always be preferred regardless of the recycling rate.

The study's main conclusion:

Through a lifecycle energy analysis, plastic is the better bag. At current recycling rates two plastic bags use less energy and produce less solid, atmospheric, and waterborne waste than a single paper bag. Moreover future improvements only increase preference in plastic bags. Increasing recycling rates and reducing the 2-to-1 ratio through proper bagging techniques would further the energy preference for plastic bags.

Plastic bags do have problems - namely, they are made from non-renewable petroleum products and are recycled at a considerably lower rate in blue box programs than paper bags are. However counter-intuitive it may sound, though, banning plastic bags is not necessarily a solution to the perceived problem. This won't stop scientifically illiterate politicians from making this decision for us in order to score "green points".

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Unintentional hilarity from the WHO

Did anyone else notice this hilarious double entendre in the news item from the World Health Organization? The WHO has recommended circumcision of newborn boys, especially in Africa. "Male circumcision should now be recognized as an efficacious intervention for HIV prevention", concludes the WHO's study.

Now for the hilarity. The authors of the report? Dr. Kevin De Cock and Dr. Kim Dickson. You can't make this stuff up.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Green idiocy in Toronto

Last Friday, Toronto mayor David Miller unveiled his city's "Green Plan", which if approved will force Toronto to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 6% below 1990 levels by 2012, 30% by 2020 and 80% by 2050. Miller said "This framework is very bold. It sets clear targets for action and it sets out an uncompromising commitment by the city of Toronto to lead on environmental issues."

The plan contains the usual dog's breakfast of "save the Earth" bromides like rebates for energy-efficient home retrofits, solar panels on buildings and replacing incandescent lightbulbs with compact fluorescents in all city-owned buildings. One proposal that caught my eye was the plan to force food retailers in Toronto to label fruits and vegetables with their "shipping distance", presumably to encourage consumers to buy locally-produced products and reduce the emissions associated with transport of imported foods. Who could argue with that?

Well, as I described in another post, no less an authority than The Economist has pointed out that locally produced food is not necessarily better for the environment - in fact, it may be worse. For example, it takes less energy to import food from places like Mexico than to grow it locally year-round in greenhouses. In a study carried out by Lincoln University in New Zealand, researchers found that producing lamb, apples and onions in New Zealand and shipping them to Britain used less energy than producing identical products in Britain itself, since farming and processing in New Zealand is less energy intensive. Furthermore, in developed countries like Britain (and Canada), more than half of the "vehicle miles" associated with transporting food are travelled by private vehicles driving to and from stores, not from producer to retailer. And, the big supermarket-based retailers, who run efficient central depots and state-of-the-art distribution networks using large trucks, are more energy efficient than consumers driving around to numerous local food suppliers in large numbers of private vehicles.

I suspect that Mayor Miller isn't interested in the scientific data relating to proposals like labelling food, and neither are the lemmings on Toronto City Council who, like politicians of all political stripes, are tripping over themselves to out-green each other. The public has been whipped into a frenzy and is demanding action, and that is all that counts in the debate.

What Mayor Miller's plan doesn't outline is the cost - both in direct costs to Toronto residents and in economic opportunity costs associated with such a drastic reduction in energy use. Does Mr. Miller actually think Toronto can reduce its emissions by 80% below 1990 levels by 2050 without destroying the city's economy? If so, let's hear the plan. But of course Miller won't be around in 2050 to worry about it, and the city's surviving residents will be too busy down in the Beaches gathering driftwood for fuel to care.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

The economic costs of reducing CO2 emissions

Rich Lowry has written a good article about the real economic costs of reducing CO2 emissions in the US to fight climate change. The public is not well informed on this aspect of the debate, and dirigiste politicians like Al Gore, Stephane Dion and Jack Layton pander to the media-induced public frenzy over this issue without adequately explaining the true costs of their proposals. Lowry writes:

It is a common argument among advocates of greenhouse-gas restrictions and clean-technology subsidies that these measures will be an economic boon. When John Edwards unveiled his plan to "halt global warming," he promised to create a million new jobs as part of "a new energy economy." If global warming can be stopped while adding jobs to the economy -- what are we waiting for? We can have all the economic growth we want and save the planet too.

As it happens, serious efforts to combat global warming in the U.S. will create new jobs, but most of them probably will be in China and India. It was just four years ago that Democrats were attacking "out-sourcing." Now they are willing to contemplate measures that would encourage it in the cause of reduced American carbon emissions.

Further, as American industries are forced to reduce CO2 output:
Emissions in the United States will fall, especially as our share of energy-intensive industries shrinks ... but they will grow even faster in China as factories rise there that would otherwise have been built here. This is bad news for the environment, since China is so much less energy-efficient than the U.S. A dollar's worth of output in China increases greenhouse gases by twice as much as a dollar's worth of output here.
Admittedly, Stephen Harper's government has done a poor job of explaining this, but I fear that the majority of Canadians are in such a hysterical frame of mind over this issue that they just aren't prepared to listen.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Buzz Aldrin kicks ass

Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon (after Neil Armstrong) during the 1969 Apollo 11 mission, confronted a tin-foil hat nutbar who accused him of participating in a conspiracy to fake the moon landing. Aldrin's response is priceless.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

David Warren - with friends like this ...

I am a subscriber to the Western Standard - I took out a subscription to support Ezra Levant when he was in hot water for publishing the Danish Mohammed cartoons, and even sent a donation to help with his legal costs when he was hauled in front of a human rights tribunal for doing so. However, I'm having trouble deciding whether or not to renew my subscription. Although I agree with their editorial position on foreign policy, the environment & fiscal/economic issues, the magazine's social-conservative slant is starting to get to me, and David Warren's weekly "Culture" column may be the last straw.

I've posted about Warren before when he wrote a patronizing and insulting tirade against homosexuals in a column in the Western Standard on gay marriage ("Planning the Counter-Revolution - how can the debate over same-sex marriage be done when its damage to society continues to multiply?" - October 23 2006). In the February 6 2007 issue he wrote a column about being a "deadbeat dad" ("The revolution against decency continues unabated") where he blames, among other things, "lesbian activists", "reckless, ideologically motivated judges laying the rights groundwork for polygamy", "revolutionary cliques in our law schools" and a general "destruction of a society's entire moral order" for his problems with Ontario's Family Responsiblility Office over a dispute with his ex-wife over spousal support.

So, I picked up the March 12 issue at the post office & turned to Warren's column with trepidation. This week it is titled "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder - North America's totalitarian feminism has resulted, unfortunately, in both degendered career women and tarty teens". I think David Warren is losing it. Here's what I mean:
I recall that at [age 15] I could appreciate beauty in girls into their early twenties. Older than that was just "too old". By the age of 21, I was actually having an extended affair with a woman of 32, who was very beautiful. By the age of 30, I realized I could appreciate attractive women from 15 to 45. That is to say, I never lost my appreciation for 15-year-olds, but the other horizon kept extending to half-again older than I happened to be .... I am still attracted to very young women (though more in memory than from the present day, when all these young girls have come to dress and act like tarts). But among actual women, I've come to prefer the older ones, forty and up, who have passed the spring of youth.

Yikes. It kind of creeps me out that a columnist for what purports to be Canada's leading conservative magazine is using his space to exorcise his personal demons and air his dirty laundry. I really didn't need to know that he has "never lost his appreciation for 15-year-olds". But more to the point is the fact that he seems to see all this as some kind of epic battle between good and evil, and that feminism and homosexuality are the roots of all of Canada's problems. The conservative movement needs to move past this social-conservative view of society if it wants to be taken seriously. Much to the annoyance of people like David Warren, I think the Conservative Party of Canada is moving in that direction, and that's a good thing.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

"Thermopylooza" - a great review of "300"

John Podhoretz, writing in the Weekly Standard, has written a great review of the movie 300 - Thermopylooza: Blood, war, and 'computer-enhanced washboard abs.' Podhoretz has offered an interesting analysis of its astounding box-office success. A sample:
If you choose to tell the story of Thermopylae, you cannot escape the fact that you are choosing to tell a story of Western civilization taking a stand against rampaging barbarians from the East. And it's precisely this aspect of 300--as well as its entirely unapologetic celebration of war at its most insanely bloodthirsty--that offers the only coherent explanation for its galvanizing effect on audiences.

Read the whole thing, and if you haven't seen it yet, check out this great movie in a real theatre with a giant screen and chest-pounding sound system.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Annoy an ayatollah - go see "300"

If you believe that we are currently in a "clash of civilizations" with militant Islam, you’ll love the movie 300. If you’re a cultural relativist or a liberal (but I repeat myself) you’d best stay out of the multiplex for this one - you’ll be grinding your teeth and looking for Karl Rove’s name in the credits. I saw the movie last night, and now I realize why the Iranians are so upset about it. As the character Dilios (David Wenham) soliloquizes to the Greek army at the beginning of the climactic battle of Plataea at the end of the film - "We are in a battle against mysticism and tyranny", and it's clear which side could represent Iran. I loved this movie.

This is one of those great guy-affirmation movies - in the same vein as Gladiator or Master and Commander. The only significant female character, Queen Gorgo of Sparta (Lena Headey), is tougher than most of the non-Spartan men (or as her husband King Leonidas puts it, "politicians and boy-lovers"), and her main role is to produce a male heir and to kill off her husband’s political rivals. There is the merest hint of a love story; Leonidas (Gerard Butler) cannot bring himself to tell Gorgo that he loves her as he marches off with his 300 warriors to meet the Persians and certain death - certainly not in front of the men. As is appropriate in an all-male alternative universe, all problems can be solved by brute force, strength of character and suppression of emotion. This is definitely not a date movie.

Visually, the movie is stunning. It is almost a frame-for-frame animation of Frank Miller’s graphic novel, and in spite of the brutal violence it is so cartoon-like that it seems more like a ballet than a slaughterhouse. It has the soft-core porn look of a 1970's Frank Frazetta pulp novel cover, with buff men in leather jock-straps fighting each other with swords while nubile babes chained to hideous mutants watch on in opium-addled boredom.

As for the politics, the whole plot seems like a thinly-disguised analogy of the war in Iraq. Leonidas is the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld character who drags a reluctant city-state into war against an enemy that threatens its very existence. Theron (Dominic West) is the John Kerry/Nancy Pelosi/Hillary Clinton foil who works duplicitously in the Spartan Council (a metaphor for a Democrat-controlled Congress) to cut off authorization and funding for Leonidas’ "illegal" war against Persia and to deny him the troops he needs to finish the job. There are Sparta’s erstwhile allies the Arcadians and the Phocians - stand-ins for the spineless Spanish and Italians - who abandon the campaign at the first threat of massive casualties. There are the Ephors who, like the French at the UN, despise the vulgar Spartans and work openly to frustrate their plans while secretly working with the Persians. And of course there’s the Persian emperor Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro), a freakish villain who substitutes for all of America's enemies from Osama bin Laden to Kim Jong Il, and whose army, in spite of an overwhelming troop advantage, doesn’t have the moral strength to defeat the Greeks in the existential struggle between "freedom and slavery". As Leonidas says to his troops as they prepare to defend the pass of Thermopylae against the advancing Persians: "A new age has come, an age of freedom. And all will know that 300 Spartans gave their last breath to defend it". Their response: a Marine Corps chant of "Boo-yeah!".

It’s clear why the Iranian government is upset by this film. Every Persian is either a slave or an effete dissipated freak. Every Spartan is a physically and morally superior superman. There is no subtle moral nuance - Sparta good, Persia evil. So what - it’s fun to watch and great to look at. And besides, as Karl Rove himself might put it - there’s a war on. Step up or step aside.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Blood for oil - in 331 BC

Alexander the Great & his Greek army invaded what is now modern Iraq in the Fourth Century BC and decisively defeated the Persians under Darius at the Battle of Gaugamela (near modern Arbela) in 331. After the battle, he marched on Babylon (north of modern Baghdad) which promptly surrendered, giving him control of most of the former Persian empire. The Roman historian Plutarch (46-120 AD), in his "Life of Alexander", records this amazing account of Alexander's discovery of oil in Mesopotamia:
On his march he was particularly impressed by the fissure in the earth from which fire continually poured forth as if it came from a well, and by the stream of naptha which gushed forth so abundantly that it formed a lake not far from the chasm. This naptha is in many ways like bitumen, but it is so inflammable that a flame can set it alight by its very radiance without actually touching it, and it often kindles all the intermediate air. To demonstrate the nature of the liquid and the force of its action the barbarians sprinkled a small quantity along the street which led to Alexander's quarters. Then standing at the far end they applied their torches to the trail of moisture, as it was growing dark. The first drops instantly ignited, and in a fraction of a second with the speed of thought the flames darted to the other end and the whole street was ablaze.
Plutarch goes on to describe a gruesome experiment that was performed in Alexander's presence to test the properties of naptha:
Among the attendants who waited upon the king, whenever he bathed and anointed himself, was an Athenian named Athenophanes, who had the task of providing him with diversions and amusements. On one occasion a boy named Stephanus, who posessed an absurdly ugly face but an agreeable singing voice, was also in attendance in the bathroom, and Athenophanes asked the king, "Would you care for us to try an experiment with the naptha upon Stephanus? If it catches fire on him and is not immediately put out, then its strength must be extraordinary and irresistible." Surprisingly, the boy agreed to try the experiment, and no sooner had he touched the liquid and anointed himself with it than the flames broke out and enveloped his body so completely that Alexander was appalled and began to fear for his life. If there had not happened to be many attendants close by holding pitchers of water for the bath, he would have been burned to death before any help could reach him. Even as it was they had great difficulty in putting out the flames, and his whole body was so severely burned that he was critically ill for a long time after.

And the rest, as they say, is history ...

Monday, March 12, 2007

Gays & gun control in the US

Last Friday, a Federal appeals court in the U.S. declared that the District of Columbia's ban on gun ownership was unconstitutional. As reported in the Washington Post:

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled ... with a 2 to 1 vote that found the Second Amendment gives them the right to have handguns in their homes. It was the first major blow to the District's law, which bars all handguns unless they were registered before 1976. The court also struck down a provision requiring registered guns, including shotguns, to be disassembled or bound with trigger locks.

A little known aspect of this landmark case is that one of the six plaintiffs seeking the law's repeal is gay, and wants to legally own a gun to level the playing field in a violent city where gay bashing is still a reality. Tom Palmer, 50, a director of the Cato Institute, a libertarian think-tank, says that a legally owned gun may have saved his life:

Palmer, 50, said that his gun rescued him 25 years ago when he was approached by a group of men in San Jose. Palmer, who is gay, said he believed the men were targeting him because of his sexual orientation. He said he and a friend started to run away, but then he took action. "I turned around and showed them the business side of my gun and told them if they took another step, I'd shoot," he said, adding that that ended the confrontation.

Palmer moved to the District in 1975 and lives in the U Street NW corridor, where police have struggled lately to curb assaults and other crimes. He said he considers it a fairly safe neighborhood, although his home was broken into once. He works as director of educational programs for the Cato Institute and travels to war-torn countries including Iraq. He keeps a shotgun and several pistols stored in Colorado and Virginia. Guns have been used in his family for generations. "My mother always had two, and she kept one under her bed," Palmer said.

It's almost a given that gay activists are liberals; gay lobby groups and the gay media invariably support the Democratic Party in the U.S. and the Liberals or the NDP in Canada. This example points out that the gay community is not monolithic, although gay organizations often speak for the community as if it was.

(h/t: Independent Gay Forum )

Sunday, March 11, 2007

"Stop the war" lunacy in Toronto

I spent the weekend in Toronto, where the lamp posts of the downtown core are plastered with posters advertising a rally to take place on March 17 to put pressure on the government to pull troops out of Afghanistan & Iraq (even though Canada has no troops in Iraq, the organizers plan to demonstrate in front of the American Consulate on University Avenue to denounce the Great Satan). Among other things, participants in the rally are planning to use their bodies to create a giant peace sign in Nathan Phillips Square:

Rally - March - Giant Peace Sign
Saturday, March 17 at 1:00 pm,
United States Consulate, 360 University Avenue
On the four-year anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, people all over the world will demonstrate - yet again - their continued opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And as George W. Bush attempts to spread the war beyond Iraq, the anti-war movement will raise the slogan, "Don't attack Iran!"
In Toronto, the Toronto Coalition to Stop the War will be part of the pan-Canadian day of action called by the Canadian Peace Alliance and the Collectif Échec à la guerre (see call-out below).
1:00 pm :
Rally at United States Consulate, 360 University Avenue; followed by a march through downtown Toronto.
Organized by the Toronto Coalition to Stop the War.
3:00 pm : Rally at Nathan Phillips Square, 100 Queen Street West; followed by the formation of a giant, "live" peace symbol.
Organized by the Hiroshima Day Coalition and the Humanist Movement.

Meanwhile in the real world, Robert Kagan of the Washington Post reports that President Bush's troop "surge" is actually working in Baghdad:
Four months later, the once insurmountable political opposition has been surmounted. The nonexistent troops are flowing into Iraq. And though it is still early and horrible acts of violence continue, there is substantial evidence that the new counterinsurgency strategy, backed by the infusion of new forces, is having a significant effect. Some observers are reporting the shift. Iraqi bloggers Mohammed and Omar Fadhil, widely respected for their straight talk, say that "early signs are encouraging." The first impact of the "surge," they write, was psychological. Both friends and foes in Iraq had been convinced, in no small part by the American media, that the United States was preparing to pull out. When the opposite occurred, this alone shifted the dynamic.
And as for Afghanistan, the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) reports that:
Development efforts are helping the nation rebuild, with Canada’s full support," said Minister Verner. "Canada has been lauded by the Afghan Government for its commitment to supporting Afghan-led national programs that have achieved measurable success. Canada's commitment to the people of Afghanistan is unwavering."With help from Canada and other donors, Aghanistan is making significant progress: successful presidential and legislative elections and the establishment of a new constitution; tremendous growth for the Afghan economy; over four million more children (1/3 of them girls) enrolled in primary school; more than 120,000 Afghan women provided with micro-loans towards sustainable livelihoods; over 3.5 million refugees resettled; collection and storage of 11,000 heavy weapons; 63,000 combatants disarmed; continued Canadian leadership on demining and eliminating surplus ammunition; and rural poverty reduction through reconstruction in over 11,000 Afghan villages.

I'm sure the media will do their usual stellar job of reporting objectively on the March 17 rally as the professional anarchists and career protesters emerge from their dorms at U of T and turn out in their hundreds to speak on our behalf.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Biofuels - not always the "green" option

In the current worldwide stampede to reduce our "carbon footprints", a lot of hot air has been issued urging the developed world to switch from fossil fuels to "biofuels" - chiefly ethanol and canola-based biodiesel. An article in the February 24th issue of The Economist (subscribers only) points out that biofuels are not the panacea that fanatical advocates would like us to believe. A report by the EU's environment agency points out some serious drawbacks.

The highlights of the report:
  • Biofuels are expensive. In Europe, biodiesel made from canola costs US$0.39/litre more than conventional diesel fuel. In spite of heavy European subsidies, producers are struggling to sell their output and governments are reluctant to forgo the fuel tax revenues that would result from further subsidies. Some European governments have mandated that refiners blend a certain percentage of biofuels into their gasoline and diesel fuels or face fines, but because of the cost many producers find it more economical to pay the fine than to obey the law.
  • Biofuel production can produce more pollution than the use of the fossil fuels it replaces. In the case of ethanol, if the energy used to convert it from grain is produced by coal-fired electrical generating plants, the benefits are minimal. If canola is grown using fertilizers made from natural gas, then the reduction in carbon emissions is negligible.
  • Biofuels produced in warm sunny countries cost less, are more efficiently produced and more environmentally friendly, but tariff barriers to protect European farmers prevent their use in Europe. European tariffs effectively prevent Brazilian ethanol and tropical palm-oil biodiesel from being used in Europe in favour of locally produced and less "green" biofuels.
  • Switching to imported biofuels often encourages damaging farming practices and habitat destruction in the developing world. The Dutch government has recently stopped promoting palm-oil biodiesel because Indonesian producers were draining wetlands to make way for oil-palm plantations. The resulting decomposition of organic material in the soil resulted in an increase of 11 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions from soil decomposition for every 1 tonne of carbon dioxide saved by replacing fossil fuel combustion.

The commission's recommendation? Europe would be better burning its biofuel crops to produce electricity than converting them to biofuels. This would save energy in the conversion process and reduce carbon emissions overall.

Monday, March 05, 2007

There's hope: rap music sales down 21%

Fox News reports that sales of rap music have taken a "stunning nosedive":

Maybe it was the umpteenth coke-dealing anthem or soft-porn music video. Perhaps it was the preening antics that some call reminiscent of Stepin Fetchit. The turning point is hard to pinpoint. But after 30 years of growing popularity, rap music is now struggling with an alarming sales decline and growing criticism from within about the culture's negative effect on society. Rap insider Chuck Creekmur, who runs the leading Web site, says he got a message from a friend recently "asking me to hook her up with some Red Hot Chili Peppers because she said she's through with rap. A lot of people are sick of rap ... the negativity is just over the top now."
Sales of rap music were down 21% percent from 2005 to 2006, and for the first time in 12 years no rap album was among the top 10 sellers of the year.

Blogger Homocon thinks he knows why:
... maybe, when tragically hip adults bop along to Eminem while driving their kids to school in chromed-out Escalades with 22 inch wheels, it's time for the little tykes to find a new way to annoy their parents.

A Barry Manilow revival, maybe?

Sunday, March 04, 2007

The end of the "litmus test" for the Republican Party?

Noemi Emery , writing in the Weekly Standard, speculates that the US Republican Party has seen the end of the "social issues litmus test" that has forced past presidential candidates to adopt an anti-abortion & anti-gay-marriage platform to placate the party's "conservative base", and that the party may well nominate a socially liberal candidate like Rudy Giuliani to run for president in 2008.

Next year may see the party of the Sunbelt and Reagan, based in the South and in Protestant churches, nominate its first presidential candidate who is Catholic, urban, and ethnic--and socially liberal on a cluster of issues that set him at odds with the party's base. As a result, it may also see the end of the social issues litmus test in the Republican party, done in not by the party's left wing, which is shrunken and powerless, but by a fairly large cadre of social conservatives convinced that, in a time of national peril, the test is a luxury they cannot afford. For the past 30 years of cultural warfare, there has been only one template for an aspiring president of either party with positions that cross those of its organized activists: Displeasure is voiced, reservations are uttered, and soon enough there is a "conversion of conscience" in which the miscreant--Dick Gephardt, Al Gore, George Bush the elder, even the hapless Dennis Kucinich--is brought to heel in a fairly undignified manner, and sees what his party sees as the light. The Giuliani campaign seems to be departing from this pattern. And this time, a pro-life party, faced with a pro-choice candidate it finds compelling on other grounds, is doing things differently. It is not carping or caving or seeking a convert. Instead, it is making a deal.

Emery suggests that for most Republicans, socially conservative or otherwise, there is a sense that issues like security and the war in Iraq are more important, and that thirty years of dogmatic socially conservative policies have alienated more Americans than they have attracted.
And now, as the litmus test slowly expires, it is time to consider its costs. It has been a very good deal for the people who imposed it, but a very bad one for the country at large. It has meant that a candidate for national office must begin by embracing ideas that have been rejected by seven in ten of Americans, while a candidate who comes close to the center of public opinion would never be allowed to compete. It has made candidates for the post of commander in chief of the world's greatest power kick off their campaigns by groveling before leaders of interest groups, which does not make them seem leaderly and causes voters to lose all respect. Worst of all, it posed the real possibility that a candidate would come forth who seemed equipped to deal with a crisis, but who, because he held the "wrong views" in the eyes of the interest groups, would not be allowed to emerge. In Giuliani, some social conservatives think they have found such a candidate and do not want to waste him.
Canadian conservatives should heed this example - the Conservative Party of Canada will never form a truly national government if it insists on adopting policies that supposedly play to its "conservative base" and alienate Canadians who would naturally be attracted to a party that advocates security, personal responsibility, a vigorous pro-democratic foreign policy, lower taxes and a free-market economy.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Rudy Giuliani & "Respect Conservatism"

In an article in the Weekly Standard, authors Ross Douthat & Reihan Sala outline a direction for the Republican Party that capitalizes on Rudy Giuliani's strengths as a candidate and his successes as mayor of New York. An excerpt:

Giuliani, by contrast, has always been a "respect" conservative. Delivering safe streets to New Yorkers wasn't an act of magnanimity, but rather an obligation. And, as Giuliani made clear, citizens and public servants were expected to fulfill their obligations as well. Anyone who failed to abide by this basic contract, whether a petty thief or a police commander who failed to meet crime-reduction targets, would be held accountable.

As commonplace as this might sound, it's difficult to overstate how dramatic a break it was with the city's reigning political culture. As mayor, Giuliani stood almost alone against the tendency Fred Siegel dubbed "dependent individualism"--the noxious idea that individuals ought to be freed from obligations to family and community through the largesse of a generous welfare system.

"Dependent individualism" fueled the rise of a new class of ethnic shakedown artists. Unlike the old patronage machines, which trafficked in corruption yet delivered tangible benefits and served as engines of political assimilation, self-appointed spokesmen for "the Community" like Al Sharpton demanded deference while offering nothing but bluster and veiled threats. Their chants of "no justice, no peace"--that is, threats of civil violence designed to intimidate authority--brought the Dinkins administration to its knees.

Because Sharpton had no respect for public order, Giuliani had no respect for Sharpton and all those who mimicked Sharpton's contemptuous disregard for authority. Instead, he insisted on subjecting all comers to a single standard, even if it meant taking a political hit.

Read the whole thing. I think conservatives in both the US and Canada are crying out for this approach, and it has been a long time since a "Conservative" party has occupied this political ground.