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)

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Dog shoots man

Remember: guns don't kill people - dogs with guns kill people. In a freak accident in Iowa last weekend, a pheasant hunter was shot in the leg when his retriever accidentally discharged the hunter's gun:
TAMA – A Tama man is recovering from injuries suffered while pheasant hunting in rural Poweshiek County today, state conservation law enforcement officials said.

James Harris, 37, was hunting approximately three to four miles north of Grinnell when the accident happened around 3:15 p.m. today. Authorities said the group had shot a bird, which landed across a fence on adjoining property. Harris reportedly went to retrieve the bird, placed his gun on the ground and crossed the fence near the muzzle end. When he crossed the fence, hunting dogs stepped on the gun, which discharged and struck Harris in the left calf at a distance of roughly three feet.

Harris was treated at Grinnell Regional Medical Center and later transported by helicopter to University of Iowa Hospitals in Iowa City.

The incident remains under investigation.
(HT: OFF/beat)

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Are we too stupid to vote in a referendum?

In between the bowling league scores & the farm auction notices, the local weekly paper The Community Press had an article last weekend about Ontario's recent referendum on MMP representation. It repeated a theme that I've heard a lot since the election: when voters don't vote the way the political intelligentsia think they should, it's because they're either too stupid to understand complex issues, or they haven't been sufficiently "educated".

In my riding (Hastings-Prince Edward), 66% of votes cast supported the status quo, with only 34% favouring the recommended MMP system. The province-wide results were similar. Most people would recognize that as a resounding defeat for MMP, but not MMP supporters. Here's what The Community Press quoted Wilf Day, a regional representative of Fair Vote Canada, saying about the referendum:
  • A public education campaign should have begun last May as soon as the Citizen's Assembly released its report.
  • Elections Ontario representatives didn't quote from or refer to the assembly's report while making public appearances to inform voters. "They were so busy being neutral, they didn't say anything at all".
  • "There is no doubt in my mind that the public was not properly informed. There were voters who were unaware of the referendum, including one who was surprised to be handed a second ballot on election day and another who replied "Conservative" when asked if they had voted for MMP."
  • "I'm not saying everyone that voted in the referendum was uniformed. However, a general public reaction against the MMP proposal would have resulted in more voters casting a ballot. If voters were motivated to reject the referendum there would have been a larger turnout."
  • Day interprets the referendum result to mean "people didn't know what they were voting on."

OK - let's see if I got this straight. A solid rejection by 66% of the voters means that the voters didn't know what they were doing and needed more "education" to arrive at the "correct" decision. Furthermore, Elections Ontario (the non-partisan arms-length organization responsible for the referendum) should not have been strictly neutral on this issue and should have advocated for one side. And, despite the 66% vote against the proposal, the result can be ignored because the overall low voter turnout means that in general, voters weren't "motivated to reject" MMP.

I'm trying to imagine a scenario where Fair Vote Canada and its ilk would have raised the alarm if the results had been reversed. If, under exactly the same circumstances, the referendum had delivered 66% support for MMP, Wilf Day would be giving interviews about the triumph of democracy and the collective wisdom of the voters. Sorry, Wilf - the people have spoken, and two-thirds of them didn't like your half-baked scheme. Get over it.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Toronto gets new Libeskind phallic symbol

A while ago in a critique of the ROM's "Crystal", I accused architect Daniel Libeskind of having one good idea in his career and then milking it for years by selling versions of it to gullible cities like Toronto. I take it back. In the latest Libeskind building slated for Yonge & Front Streets in Toronto, Libeskind has reached deep into his subconcious to design a giant glass dildo to be "erected" behind the Hummingbird Centre.

OK, some of you are thinking "sometimes a cigar is just a cigar". Well, take a look at an artist's rendering of the structure - a condo development called "the L Tower" - shown here in its usual form and in a more suggestive orientation:

Good lord. This thing is going to be a permanent feature of one of Toronto's most important intersections? Visitors are going to arrive in Union Station and step outside to take a gander at the giant glass phallus across the street?

You know, it is getting increasingly hard to take artists and intellectuals seriously when they produce artistically bankrupt nonsense like this. Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe it isn't a giant penis, but just a huge metaphorical middle finger raised to the citizens of Toronto.

On the other hand, it might look good next to this building (a 1918 design for an Amsterdam theatre by Hendrik Wijdeveld, never built):

Related: Check out this post by Edward Michael George on Libeskind's ROM Crystal

Sunday, October 14, 2007

The Conservative platform I'd like to see

There has been a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth since the Ontario election over the fact that the voter turnout was at a historic low - 47% of eligible voters didn't bother to vote. Various explanations have been offered: voters felt it was pointless when faced with an inevitable Liberal majority, people in the province are complacent, various segments of the electorate were "disenfranchised" because of our first-past-the-post system, etc. etc. How's this for a reason: why bother voting when neither of the two big parties capable of forming a government have a coherent platform or occupy an ideologically identifiable section of the political spectrum?

In the last election, we basically had a choice of liberal party A (the Liberals) and liberal party B (the Progressive Conservatives). Or, as George Jonas put it in the National Post, "we'll now have a Liberal government carrying out half-baked Liberal policies under Dalton McGuinty, instead of a Conservative government carrying out half-baked Liberal policies under John Tory." Only the NDP is an ideologically consistent party that offered an alternative to the existing government.

So, let the blood-letting in the PC party begin. Over the next four years, the PCs have to figure out what the hell they actually stand for. Why would any conservative vote for the PC party when they occupy the exact same policy ground as the Liberals and offer nothing by way of a credible alternative? I presume that the brain trust that runs the PC party will now embark on a process of existential soul-searching. To give them a clue, here are my suggestions for a Conservative platform for those of us on the centre-right who want to vote for a real centre-right party.

First of all, let's get some basics straight. There are a few things that most conservatives agree on, and in my opinion these principles should be front & centre in any conservative party platform:
  • personal liberty is sacred, to the extent that the exercise of personal liberties does not harm others
  • the ownership of private property is a fundamental human right
  • the principles of free-market capitalism should guide economic activity
  • government regulation, intervention & taxation should be kept to a minimum
  • the law applies equally to all citizens, and governments should ensure that the rule of law is administered firmly, fairly & efficiently
  • promotion of consensual democratic government & opposition to dictatorship should guide our relationships with other countries

If I ran the PC party in Ontario (or the Conservative Party of Canada, for that matter), my platform could be summed up on one sheet of paper. I wouldn't list the various programs the government would tinker with, or the marginal tax rates that would be tweaked, or the myriad of struggling sectors of the economy that would be propped up.

Here's what it would say:

  • When faced with a policy decision, the policy that maximises personal liberty without harming others would be the policy of this party.
  • The policy that offers the least amount of government intervention, regulation & taxation would be the policy of this party.
  • This party supports free market economic principles.
  • This party believes in the rule of law, applied equally & fairly to ALL citizens.
  • This party supports foreign policies that encourage the spread of democracy, human rights & the free market.
  • We believe that the government has an obligation to look after its most vulnerable citizens, but where possible these programs should enable these citizens to be full, independent participants in the economic & civic life of our society.

There. That's it. Gay marriage? We don't believe the state should be involved either way. Morality issues? These are best left up to the individual & the state has no business sticking its nose in your affairs, whether you're a lesbian pot-smoking wiccan or a Baptist preacher. Education? The state should run one public education system open equally to all & get out of ALL religious schools. Health care? It should be available free to all, but the system should be run in accordance with free-market principles and incentives. Law-and-order issues like Caledonia? The law must be applied to all citizens (including natives) and the police must enforce the law firmly but fairly.

So there you go. I'll see you again in 2011 & we'll see what the PCs have come up with. It's not like they haven't been warned.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Why we shouldn't lower the voting age

An all-candidates meeting was held in Trenton (Northumberland-Quinte West riding) on Sept. 26 at the local high school where the candidates appeared in front of an audience consisting mostly of students. On October 5, the following letters-to-the-editor, written by students in grade 10 Civics classes who attended the debate, appeared in the local daily paper, The Trentonian:
I don't agree with some of the promises or things that were said at the all candidates assembly I attended yesterday.
The candidates weren't very exciting. A lot of the students that were around me were talking because they were bored. Most of the questions that were asked by the students the candidates either didn't answer or they took their time as if they weren't sure of what they were saying. I don't think I would want someone like that running the province.
Maybe next time the candidates should try to make it interesting for students and not so boring. That way they will most likely grab the students' attention instead of giving them time to sleep.
The beginning of the assembly was kind of boring, due to the fact that all the candidates talked about was taxes and the environment.
The environment part is important because of Global Warming, but none of the students were interested in that topic let alone the whole assembly.
The students were more interested in the minimum wage and education funding. When they did talk about those topics only some of the people were interested.
Except for the Green Party, the candidates seemed dry and did not have any emotion behind what they were saying.
It could have been more fun for us and for them if they organized it in a different way. Maybe a game show theme and setting in the auditorium where questions are asked in the same way they are asked on game shows.

Try to imagine a province run by a government chosen in a close election where teenagers were the swing votes. Being boring would be a criminal offence, the minimum wage would be $100/hour, post-secondary education would be free and burning fossil fuels would be illegal. Oh, and the legislature would be renovated to resemble the set of Hollywood Squares and cabinet ministers would be dressed like clowns.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Mark Steyn on Toronto's "murder epidemic"

Mark Steyn has a recent Western Standard article up on his website called Gun Smoke. In it, he focuses his acidic wit on the handwringing going on in Toronto over the recent spate of gun violence that occurred "within one very narrow stratum of Toronto society":

And as the jihad goes, so goes the Toronto crime scene. When nine citizens die in a single weekend in July, heaven forbid we should suggest these killings are connected to anything more specific than the very broadest of broad strata. Surveying the corpse count, Michael Bryant, Attorney General of Ontario, immediately demanded that the federal government tighten up the gun registry and make the all but total handgun ban even more totally total. Is Mr. Bryant some sort of crude animatronic prototype? The political equivalent of the talking Ken doll, capable of only a handful of robotically droned generalities? Instead of "Come on, Barbie, let's go party", the Attorney-General squeaks his new catchphrase: "No gun, no funeral."

Really? One day in the not too distant future, there will be one surviving legal gun owner in Canada - an octogenarian Newfoundland farmer who still has his grandfather's shotgun. But doubtless Mr. Bryant will be blaming him for the 20 gun deaths in TO that weekend. Despite the reflex pandering of lazy politicians, there remains no connection between legal gun ownership and murder rates. Actually, that's not true. If you look at the Top Ten countries with the lowest homicide rates, at least half of them have some of the highest gun-ownership rates in the world: Switzerland, Norway and Finland have more guns than Canada but lower crime rates.

More nuanced types recognize that neither Canadian long guns nor the modest number of legally registered Canadian handguns have anything to do with Toronto gang crime, and suggest instead that we need to crack down on guns coming in from the lawless cowboy country to the south. Well, we could try, I suppose. What level of scrutiny do you reckon would be necessary to secure a porous border strung out across thousands of miles on which 90 per cent of the Canadian economy depends? Canucks are already complaining about increased inspection times on shopping trips south, but if you want to install a huge Maple Curtain along the 49th parallel, go ahead.

And, when you've run the numbers for that project, maybe it's worth asking the Mayor of Toronto and the Attorney-General of Ontario why they cannot do the citizens of a mature democracy the courtesy of addressing the question honestly. There is no "Canadian" murder epidemic or "Ontario" murder epidemic. There is a problem within one very narrow stratum of Toronto society (as no RCMP assistant commissioner is ever likely to say). Innocent Madowo, "a former Zimbabwean journalist living in Toronto", wrote a column the other day headlined "Our Community's Scourge" - "our" meaning "black". But he does his community an injustice. It would be truer to say violent crime is the West Indian community's scourge, and truer still to say it's the Jamaican community's. In contrast to gun-infested Switzerland and Norway, Jamaica has one of the highest murder rates on the planet, and it exports its pathologies to wherever the Jamaican diaspora settles. In Britain, as in Toronto, gun crime is largely a Jamaican gang problem--"Yardies", as they call them. The only difference is that the United Kingdom has implemented to the nth degree all the policies Michael Bryant wants enacted here, and with the predictable result that the coppers would rather hassle the cranky farmer with the unlicensed shotgun than take on the rather more demanding task of going after Yardies with Uzis.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

More on Toronto's ugliest building

I wrote a post recently on my visit to the Royal Ontario Museum's addition - formally called the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal - where I called it "Toronto's ugliest building". So, it was with a certain amount of schadenfreude that I found out in a recent Globe & Mail story that not only is it ugly, but it leaks, it is difficult to display artifacts in its wacky spaces, and visitors treat the structure more like a jungle gym than a world-class museum:

As winter approaches, fingers are crossed that there will be no more puddles, and that the Crystal's cladding, designed to prevent it from turning into an avalanche-maker, will function as well in cold reality as it does in theory. But it's clear, four months into the Crystal's life, the new spaces pose huge challenges, and leaks are the least of them.

Far more daunting are the problems of mounting exhibits in the strange new spaces, ensuring public safety and budgeting for the new reality.

There are rumours that the Crystal's oddly shaped, difficult-to-access windows have increased window-cleaning costs by $200,000, a figure ROM's executive director of capital development and facilities, Al Shaikoli, disputes. "But it is considerable," he admitted. "In the old days, our window-cleaning budget was next to nothing."

Safety issues are a surprise. "We didn't predict human behaviour," Mr Shaikoli said. On the June weekend of its grand, all-night opening, ROM staffers discovered that, particularly after the bars closed, visitors seemed more interested in the Crystal as a playground than as architecture. Staff were alarmed to see people crawling out on windows slanting over Bloor Street, apparently testing their strength.

"Mind you, these galleries were naked spaces," Mr. Shaikoli said. "Once they're filled with artifacts, people will be more respectful." Display cases will soon be installed in the paths of future adventurers.

Another discovery was a trail of footprints most of the way up a fourth-floor wall that rises at a 30-degree angle. "Probably a kid took a run at it," speculates Dan Rahimi, director of gallery development. Baseboards and stainless steel barriers are being installed to signal that a wall is a wall, even if it's not on the straight and narrow.

As Paul Wells puts it, "it turns out that thousands of years of architectural tradition exist for a reason."

MMP referendum a "godawful mess"

I'm checking the Weather Channel to see if hell has frozen over, but I actually agree with Howard Hampton - the Liberal government of Ontario has made a "godawful mess" of the upcoming referendum on Mixed Member Proportional government.

Mr. Hampton muses:
"I can tell the number of people who talk to me in the streets and say, 'I don't know what this is about, I don't understand it, could somebody please explain it to me in terms that make sense," he said. "There's mass confusion out there, and that's terrible."
I second that opinion. The MMP option (which I personally oppose) has been so poorly explained that I think any result of the referendum, pro-MMP or con, will be suspect. I was chatting with a friend who teaches civics in an Ontario high school and it became apparent that he didn't fully understand the proposal. Like many Ontarians he is labouring under the misconception that the 39 list candidates will be divided between the parties based on their percentage of the party vote ( ie Party X gets 45% of the party vote, they get 45% of the list candidates) when in fact the list candidates will be allocated to top up the party's riding candidates to the level of their support in the party vote.

My own parents, who are highly-educated professionals & fully capable of understanding nuance, can't understand the MMP proposal & called me to explain it to them.

If permanent changes to the province's electoral system are made based on the results of a referendum where most of the voters don't understand the question, then we've got a big problem. I'm grateful that the so-called super-majority (60% of votes cast + 50% of ridings) makes it look like the MMP option is going to fail. Good.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Ontario Tories not ready for prime time

Just in case the people at John Tory's campaign headquarters are monitoring conservative bloggers for reaction to today's about-face on faith-based school funding, I thought I would pile on while the corpse is still warm. In my opinion, the Ontario Progressive Conservatives do not deserve to form the next government.

First, the PCs gave us a platform that is indistinguishable from the Liberal party's. Any new ideas on health care, like radically overhauling our inefficient state-run monopoly? Nope - just a vague promise to increase "public-private partnerships" and spend $8.5 billion extra dollars over four years, as if more money is going to make it all better.

The environment? How about a commitment to reduce greenhouse gases to 10% below 1990 levels by 2020. This is coming from the Tories? The Conservative party is going to force the province to shut down a third of its energy economy just to out-Kyoto the Liberals?

The economy & taxes? Well, they did promise to eliminate the health-care "premium", but that is tempered by idiotic ideas like relocating 10% of government offices out of Toronto & supporting economic development in the north (presumably by spending lots of money and propping up inefficient industries). Any market-based reforms? Not that I can tell.

And finally, education. Any really radical conservative ideas in this area, like reducing the power of teachers' unions, eliminating funding for Catholic schools, or creating voucher systems for underperforming schools? No - John Tory makes a mountain out of a molehill by introducing a controversial plan to fund religious schools, a plan almost no-one in Ontario was agitating for, and was guaranteed to hand the Liberals a club to beat him with.

OK, I was willing to swallow all that, hold my nose and vote Conservative for one reason: Caledonia. I was willing to do anything to punish the government that has allowed communities across the province to be terrorized by lawless natives while the OPP stands idly by. This had to stop, and McGuinty had to pay for his spinelessness on the native file.

Well, not anymore. If John Tory is so wishy-washy that he changes a major plank in his party platform less than two weeks before the election, then he will do anything. We already have a premier like that.