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"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


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

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Please throw this cliche under the bus

The defining journalistic cliche of 2008 has to be the ubiquitous and annoying phrase "thrown under the bus", meaning to repudiate, reject or make a scapegoat of someone with whom one was previously closely associated. It was used so often during the US election - for example to describe Barack Obama's treatment of Reverend Wright, Tony Rezko, Bill Ayers, his white grandmother - that no self-respecting journalist or blogger could avoid using it and maintain his "street cred". Now that the year is winding to a close & a new era of hope and change is dawning south of the border, here's a lonely plea: PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE banish this irritating trite phrase to the ash-heap of history.

It's hard to pin down the origins of this metaphor. Urban Dictionary says:
A Boston radio station manager coined the term circa 1987-88 when canceling a radio network's services on his music-oriented FM station, stating that he was going to put the network "under the bus." The term was picked up by staff members to describe conduct in which one person would try to gain an advantage in company politics by speaking ill of, or doing something to reflect disfavorably on, another. In this context, it generally meant something that was a combination of sneaky, subtle and vicious. The phrase crept into on-air talk. In time, the radio station's owner acquired a sports-oriented station whose employees picked up the phrase and eventually began using it on highly-rated programs.
Newsweek reports a different origin:
William Safire, the author of "Safire's Political Dictionary," traced the popularization of the phrase back to Cyndi Lauper, who jauntily tossed her critics "under the bus" after the release of her debut album "She's So Unusual" in 1983, says Safire. But he suspects that the phrase has deeper roots in minor-league baseball, where players are almost always bused to away games. In fact, its original meaning could be have been quite literal: be on time for the bus, or you will be thrown underneath it, into the storage bays. He says the metaphor has also been used as a way to say "get with it, or get lost," as in "you're either on the bus, or you're under it." He isn't quite sure when the meaning of the phrase crystallized into the act of "summarily and decisively rejecting someone."
This cliche is stubborn - the election is long over but journalists keep dragging it out of storage like a comfortable sweater. Here's CNN's John Roberts in an interview on Tuesday with Joe "the Plumber" Wurzelbacher:
ROBERTS: Joe Wurzelbacher, you probably know him better as Joe the plumber. He became a blue-collar talking point during the final leg of the presidential campaign. Well now, Joe is out with a new book with his take on American values. Joe Wurzelbacher, author of "Joe the Plumber: Fighting for the American Dream" joins me now from Toledo, Ohio.

Joe, good to see you. I guess the book is available on your Web site which is secureourdream.com. It's coming out in stores I believe, first in the new year. In the book you say that the McCain campaign was, "fragmented and disorganized." And you go on to say, "I did not want him for the Republican ticket. I do not agree with a great many of his policies, nor do I care for aspects of his voting record." Now, he stood by you after you had said during an interview that a vote for Barack Obama was a vote for the death of Israel. He was there backing you up, but you're throwing him under the bus now. Why?

JOE WURZELBACHER, AUTHOR: I'm not throwing him under the bus, the things I spoke about, his voting records, I mean that's factual. You know, we talked about -- he wanted to make other senators famous for having pork ,you know, in a bill, and yet he goes back to Washington, you know, suspends his campaign and goes back to Washington and votes for a $700 billion bailout, when Americans are in a time of need. You know we're taken advantage of and money is you know, ‘you wash my back, I'll wash yours.’ Money was thrown, you know, Michigan International Speedway got what, $250,000? So many other different organizations received pork.

So it's not that I'm throwing John McCain on the bus. I have said it in my book, I respect John McCain for the service he provided our country, and, but as far as his voting record, I mean, you know, he proposed the amnesty bill for the illegal aliens. And I mean, that got a lot of negative publicity, a lot of, you know, opinion polls you know, proved the American people don't want it, yet they don't listen to us. So I'm not throwing McCain under the bus. That's just factual and that’s what happened.

ROBERTS: But I guess the throwing him under the bus aspect of this Joe, comes in from the idea that you were out there on the campaign trail, you were stumping for John McCain, you didn't say anything about it then. He loses the election. Now you’re writing a book for profit, saying all of these things about him. Many people take that as throwing him under the bus. If you felt so strongly about it during the campaign, why didn't you say something then?

WURZELBACHER: Well no, it's not so much that people are saying I'm throwing him under the bus, the media is saying I'm throwing him under the bus. So you know, let's correct that. You know, let them make the decision when they read the book. You know, so far I have heard that and it's been written about in the last couple of weeks since the interview with Glenn Beck, that I’ve thrown him under the bus. But that's just what I heard from the media. It's not what I heard from the general populace of America. Like I said, so they read the book, they can decide if I have thrown them under the bus, I just stated facts. I just stated facts about other politicians as well. So it's not, you know, I'm not singling John McCain out, he just happens to be the one I got to meet and you know, work with for six hours. So he's a good example that I can use.

Wow - that's TEN TIMES in a minute or two of interview. Is that some kind of record? It's enough to make the little vein on my forehead throb in annoyance. For heaven's sake, have mercy - I'll take the waterboarding.

Monday, December 22, 2008

"Homophobia doesn’t run rampant in the Republican Party, pandering does."

James Richardson, formerly the R.N.C's Online Communication Manager, has some interesting things to say about gay rights, homophobia and the "social-conservative base" in the Republican Party. In a recent interview - Yes, Virginia - there is a gay-friendly Republican - he raised some issues that are also applicable to the Conservative Party of Canada. Some excerpts:
The Republican Party has always been, or at least billed as, the “crusader” of limited government intervention and intrusion, which is why I’m baffled we’ve recently adopted this troubling gay-hostile rhetoric by way of appeasing a fraction of the “base.”

...

Social conservatives, despite their baggage, have earned significant political capital over the years – and you can be sure they know it. The party establishment is (justifiably) fearful that social conservatives will abandon us if we veer from their religion-dominated agenda. And so, we toe the line like good little boys and girls.

Here’s the GOP’s dirty little secret: Homophobia doesn’t run rampant in the Republican Party, pandering does. So many of my former colleagues are afraid they’ll be blackballed by the Don Wildmon’s of the world for voicing their honest-to-God opinions on controversial issues (see any reference to “the List” by social conservative leaders after the Foley fall-out).

...

While recent polls indicates a growing number of Americans support key equal rights legislation for gay men and women, the number of “base supporters” who favor such legislation is frighteningly low. Vilifying homosexuals is a successful base turnout, and candidates and strategists fully understand this (even if they don’t agree with it). The problem for Republicans now: The values constituency has shrunk, and this gay-hostile rhetoric does us no favors with suburban women and younger voters.

...

I view my support of equal rights measures as fundamentally in sync with the GOP’s cause of limited government interference, not to mention basic human values. Depriving simple rights like loving the partner of one’s choice is, in my eyes, a gross dereliction of human decency. It is only when we apply these asinine social conservative “culture war” filters that we run into problems of this nature…

Our collective willingness to jump to some biased and inflexible conclusions is a sad testament to the divisiveness of American politics. No one, it seems, is honestly interested in, or prepared for, a meaningful debate: “I don’t want to know you, and you don’t want to know me, unless, of course, you’re willing to admit you’re wrong.”


(ht: Average Gay Joe)

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Libertarian relationship advice for gay Democrats

Katherine Mangu-Ward of Reason Magazine has some advice for disillusioned gay Democrats in her article Rick Warren, gay heartbreaker. A sample:
Oh LGBTers. Don't cry. I know President-elect Barack Obama's breaking your heart. It sucks, doesn't it, when you hitch your wagon to a political party, but the party is just not that into you?

Obama's selection of Rick Warren to do the invocation at his inauguration is a tough blow. After all, Pastor Warren is the guy who recently compared gay marriage to incestuous, polygamous, and pedophilic marriage. Sure, he's not as bad as Jerry Falwell, but it's cold comfort to be told that even though homosexuality is "not the natural way" and is a sin, at least "in the hierarchy of evil...homosexuality is not the worst sin."

...

There, there, LGBTers. Remember who was there for you in Florida on the gay adoption thing? Libertarians. Remember who stood by you when Virginia tried to pass an anti-gay marriage amendment? Libertarians. Mainstream political parties may come and go, but we'll always have each other. Sure, we've fought about anti-discrimination and hate speech laws, but you know we just want what's best for you.

...

I know you're probably going to go crawling back to the Democrats, LGBTers. The single life can be tough, and God knows it's not like Republicans are showing that much interest in you. You'd think they'd at least want to take you out to dinner and get to know you better. Oh well. All it's going to take is for Obama to repeal "don't ask don't tell" and adopt a pug and you're going to fly right back into his arms. And I don't blame you for it.

But don't let him treat you so badly, OK? You deserve better. Just don't act surprised when he does it again, either. You know how politicians are. Dogs, all of them.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Recycling is bullshit

Penn & Teller look at recycling in this episode of their show Bullshit (1/2 hour video). Summary: "Recycling may be the most wasteful activity in modern America; a waste of time and money, a waste of human and natural resources."

Governments all over the world are pouring tax dollars into a program that is worse than useless but makes everyone feel good. I participate in my municipality's recycling program for the sole reason that it costs me money to NOT recycle - the municipality charges a per-bag fee to collect household garbage but collects recycled garbage for free. I wouldn't complain but for the fact that our recycling program costs more to collect, transport and process recycled material than dumping it in the local landfill, and results in negligible economic or environmental benefits.


(ht: Classical Values)

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Prince of Wales for US Senate?

Steve Chapman at Reason Magazine has a suggestion for New York Governor Paterson: appoint HRH Charles, Prince of Wales, to fill Hillary Clinton's soon-to-be-vacant Senate seat instead of Caroline Kennedy:
Really, what assets does Jack Kennedy's daughter have that the son of Elizabeth II doesn't? Both owe their prominence entirely to their ancestry. Both are immensely rich thanks to the sacrifices and achievements of people who went before.

Both have often represented their families at the funerals of prominent people. Neither has ever had to stress about finding a job, meeting a payroll, or keeping government functions going during a budget crisis.

And here's the most newsworthy similarity: Both expect to attain a high office without the bother of having to submit themselves to the voters. And both will probably get their way.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Russian film: America is so gay

Cathy Young, writing in The New Republic, reviews a new Russian film Strangers:
The film, Strangers (Chuzhiye), was released last month in Russia with the slogan, "The most topical movie of the year!"--presumably in reference to Russian-American tensions in the wake of the war in Georgia. A bizarre mix of over-the-top agitprop and equally over-the-top melodrama, Strangers is indeed quite topical in its own way--for what the movie itself and the events surrounding it reveal about the state of Russian culture and attitudes toward the United States. But what it reveals is not what you might expect--and probably not what the creators of this film expected, either.
The only sympathetic American characters in the movie are a gay couple, "Mike and Bill":
The two remaining members of the motley crew--a gay interracial couple, Mike and Bill--might look like an exception to the parade of grotesques. Despite Mike's occasional vanity and snippiness, the men seem kind-hearted, decent, and clearly devoted to each other. But that's not how they are meant to be seen by audiences in Russia, where nearly half of the population still opposes equality for gays in areas other than marriage. Apparently, Grymov's idea is to show--according to the synopsis on the film's official site--"how an unnatural relationship can become a norm in the eyes of modern society." The group's acceptance of Mike and Bill is thus intended as an indictment of American political correctness. At the end of the movie, a young native boy who has innocently befriended the duo is horrified and repulsed when he peers through the window and sees them in bed, kissing. (Interestingly, the linkage of "American" and "gay" is part of the mindset of hardcore America-hating in Russia: the preferred anti-American slur of recent years, pindos, bears a strong resemblance to pidoras, the Russian equivalent of "fag.")

The movie has apparently bombed at the Russian box office. Young concludes:
Their best chance to make some money with this movie might be to package it to U.S. audiences, as a straight-to-DVD cult hit. With a little luck, it just might become the Plan 9 From Outer Space for our time.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Milk star Sean Penn loves anti-gay dictators

Author James Kirchick of The Advocate discusses the contrast of actor Sean Penn's recent portrayal of gay rights pioneer Harvey Milk in the recently released film Milk with his support for anti-gay dictators like Raul Castro, Hugo Chavez and Robert Mugabe. In his article Sean Penn's blind spot he writes:
It’s not surprising that Sean Penn, thanks to his star turn as Harvey Milk in Gus Van Sant’s biopic Milk, is becoming a hero to gays. His performance is moving and, judging by the archival film footage, flawless; Penn simultaneously renders Milk as a figure of historic importance and a vulnerable individual with a sparkling sense of humor. Aside from the acting prizes he will surely win (and deservingly), Penn is likely to earn himself the iconic status of “straight ally,” a heterosexual who goes out of his way to take a stand for gay rights and is thus showered with praise from gays. A GLAAD Media Award, honors from the Human Rights Campaign, and a slew of prizes from other prominent gay rights organizations are only a matter of time.

Which is a shame, because Penn’s political activism, irrespective of his views on gay rights, negates the values for which a movement based upon individual freedom must stand.

The same week that Milk premiered in theaters, The Nation published a cover story by Penn based on interviews he conducted recently with Hugo Chavez and Raul Castro, the dictators of Venezuela and Cuba respectively. The article is a love letter to the two men, defending them against all manner of Western “propaganda.” It hearkens back to the notorious dispatches penned by Westerners fresh from the Soviet Union who reported on the amazing progress of the workers' paradise. These worshipful epistles, often published in The Nation, neglected to mention anything about the gulag, the “disappearance” of political dissidents, the Ukrainian famine, or any other such inconvenient truths about communism. Lenin termed the individuals who delivered these apologetics “useful idiots,” and Penn and his enablers are nothing if not that.

...

The lack of interest in individual liberty, hardly surprising for a far-left fellow traveler like Penn, is nonetheless ironic given the Cuban regime’s treatment of gay people, a subject that one suspects Penn might have some interest in given his critically acclaimed performance in Milk. Not long after the Cuban revolution, Fidel Castro ordered the internment of gay people in prison labor camps, where they were murdered or worked to death for their “counterrevolutionary tendencies.”

Over the gate of one of these camps were the words “Work Will Make Men Out of You,” an eerie homage to the welcome sign at Auschwitz instructing Jews on their way to the gas chambers that “Work Will Make You Free.” (The plight of gays in the Cuban revolution is movingly told in the novel Before Night Falls by Reinaldo Arenas, made into a film starring Javier Bardem. Playing a gay character in a film that has both an antitotalitarian and pro-gay message, Bardem is an “ally” less morally compromised than Penn.) In the early years of the regime, Raul Castro was notorious for ordering the summary execution of its opponents, including people whose only crime was their homosexuality. This is the man with whom Penn was “in stitches” knocking back glasses of red wine.

While homosexuality has since been decriminalized in Cuba, the communist government bans gay organizations, as it does any organization critical of the regime.

“There isn’t a single individual that is taken seriously in the human rights community — whether you’re talking about Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, or Freedom House — that would describe the Castro brothers and their regime as anything other than a police state run by thugs and murderers,” says Thor Halvorssen, president of the Human Rights Foundation, which focuses on Latin America. “That Sean Penn would be honored by anyone, let alone the gay community, for having stood by a dictator that put gays into concentration camps is mind-boggling.”


(ht: Independent Gay Forum)

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Advice for straight married men

How to stay out of the doghouse this Christmas.

(My father once got my mother an exercise bike for Christmas - this video would really have helped.)

(ht: Tom Palmer)

"Killer Chic" - the marketing of Che Guevara

Nick Gillespie of Reason Magazine has a fascinating video documenting what he calls "Hollywood's sick love affair with Che Guevara":
It's something that baffles Cuban jazz legend Paquito D'Rivera. "Che hated artists, so how is it possible that artists still today support the image of Che Guevara?" Turns out the rebellious icon that emblazons countless T-shirts actually enforced aesthetic and political conformity. D'Rivera explains that Che and other Cuban authorities sought to ban rock and roll and jazz.

"Che was an inspiration for me," D'Rivera tells reason.tv. "I thought I have to get out of this island as soon as I can, because I am in the wrong place at the wrong time!" D'Rivera did escape Cuba, and so far he's won nine Grammy awards playing the kind of music Che tried to silence. But D'Rivera says Che's crimes didn't end with censorship. "He ordered the execution of many people with no trial." Che served as Castro's chief executioner, presiding over the infamous La Cabana prison. D'Rivera says Che's policy of killing innocents earned him the nickname-the Butcher of La Cabana.

"We're rightly horrified by fascist murderers like Adolph Hitler," says reason.tv's Nick Gillespie. "Why aren't we also horrified by communist killers?"


Watch the video here:

Sunday, December 07, 2008

The religious case for gay marriage

Newsweek magazine's cover story this week, Our Mutual Joy, examines the religious & scriptural case for gay marriage:
The argument goes something like this statement, which the Rev. Richard A. Hunter, a United Methodist minister, gave to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in June: "The Bible and Jesus define marriage as between one man and one woman. The church cannot condone or bless same-sex marriages because this stands in opposition to Scripture and our tradition."

To which there are two obvious responses: First, while the Bible and Jesus say many important things about love and family, neither explicitly defines marriage as between one man and one woman. And second, as the examples above illustrate, no sensible modern person wants marriage—theirs or anyone else's —to look in its particulars anything like what the Bible describes. "Marriage" in America refers to two separate things, a religious institution and a civil one, though it is most often enacted as a messy conflation of the two. As a civil institution, marriage offers practical benefits to both partners: contractual rights having to do with taxes; insurance; the care and custody of children; visitation rights; and inheritance. As a religious institution, marriage offers something else: a commitment of both partners before God to love, honor and cherish each other—in sickness and in health, for richer and poorer—in accordance with God's will. In a religious marriage, two people promise to take care of each other, profoundly, the way they believe God cares for them. Biblical literalists will disagree, but the Bible is a living document, powerful for more than 2,000 years because its truths speak to us even as we change through history. In that light, Scripture gives us no good reason why gays and lesbians should not be (civilly and religiously) married—and a number of excellent reasons why they should.

Voters should decide, not political parties

Distinguished historian Michael Bliss has an editorial in Saturday's National Post which perfectly and eloquently refutes the argument that the Coalition has legitimate parliamentary & constitutional powers to toss out the Conservative government. His article Ignoring our constitutional tradition should put to rest the canard that governments can be installed by the backroom machinations of MPs and political parties without seeking the approval of the people in an election:
Canadian public opinion was outraged by both Meech and Charlottetown. Eventually, the politicians were forced to take the Charlottetown accord to the people in a 1992 national referendum, where it was massively defeated. Canadians didn't want constitutional change -- and they said so once they got a vote on the matter.

Sadly, instead of taking the lesson from this precedent that, in a modern democracy, the will of the people trumps Parliamentary deal-making, the architects of the 2008 coalition trotted out the same old assumptions about Parliamentary freedom, and how little the popular will matters. Their conceit has been that they can legally succeed in what millions of Canadians see as the overturning of the outcome of a democratic election, and do it without giving Canadians the ultimate say in the matter.

This is a huge error of both political and constitutional intelligence. Constitutions are living bodies of precedent, convention, comity and adaptation. Canada has evolved a long way since the era when Sir John A. Macdonald opposed universal suffrage and condemned democracy as an American disease. No constitutional expert -- certainly, no governor-general--can ignore the democratic conventions that have emerged and evolved throughout the 20th century. These conventions have been moving constantly in the direction of shifting sovereignty from Parliament to the people.

Just as it was finally realized that the Charlottetown Accord had to be taken to the people, so the Liberal-NDP-Bloc coalition proposal would have to go to the Canadian people before it could be legitimately implemented. I am certain that if Mr. Harper loses the confidence of the House at the end of January, and chooses to request a dissolution of Parliament and an election to test voters' will, the Governor-General will grant it. The coalition-without-election idea, I believe, is as dead as the Charlottetown Accord, not least because, now as then, so many Canadians have been deeply angered by the arrogance and egos of parliamentarians whose understanding has failed to evolve beyond the pages of out-of-date constitutional textbooks.
Read the whole thing.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Time to rethink the institution of Governor-General

Poor Mme Jean - she holds a post that is largely ceremonial and is suddenly thrust into the unaccustomed spotlight and asked to make a precedent-setting decision with massive constitutional ramifications. Regardless of how you feel about her decision, it's clear to me from the current constitutional brouhaha in Ottawa that we need to rethink the process that has given us the string of non-entities that have lately inhabited Rideau Hall.

Think back to recent Governors-General and try to remember a single one of them who inspired pride, patriotism or even enthusiasm. Ed Schreyer? Jeanne Sauve? Ray Hnatyshyn? Romeo Leblanc? Adrienne Clarkson? With all due respect to Mme Jean, who I think is doing a competent job, she's certainly not in the same league as Governors of the past - Vincent Massey or Georges Vanier, or the previous British office-holders like John Buchan (Baron Tweedsmuir), Field-marshal Viscount Alexander of Tunis, or Lord Byng of Vimy. We used to have war heroes or distinguished men of letters in Rideau Hall; now we get washed-up politicians or politically-correct CBC personalities.

When the current Governor-General's term expires, I have a modest suggestion for whoever chooses her successor: it's time for someone who can inspire us. Admittedly that will be difficult in a fractious & diverse country such as ours, but I have a few ideas.

The Constitution is vague on how the Governor-General should be chosen; Section III of the Constitution Act simply states that "the Executive Government and Authority of and over Canada is hereby declared to continue and be vested in the Queen." (par. 9) and "the Provisions of this Act referring to the Governor General in Council shall be construed as referring to the Governor General acting by and with the Advice of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada." (par. 13). In additon, the Governor-General is to be commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces: "The Command-in-Chief of the Land and Naval Militia, and of all Naval and Military Forces, of and in Canada, is hereby declared to continue and be vested in the Queen." (par. 15) The Queen has the power to appoint the Governor-General but nowhere in the Constitution is it spelled out how the Governor-General is to be selected. That perogative rests with the Queen, but there is a long-standing convention that she appoints whoever is recommended to her by members of the Privy Council of Canada (in effect the government of Canada). So in effect, the Prime Minister chooses the candidate and recommends that person to the Queen.

How should we improve this process short of abolishing the office altogether (which would require the unanimous consent of the federal government and all ten of the provinces)? Since the Queen appoints the GG, all we need to do is codify a method of selecting the candidate, which could be done without any constitutional amendments. Here are two suggestions:

1. Elect the Governor-General

The candidate to be recommended to the Queen could be elected in a nationwide vote for a fixed term (currently five years). To avoid the partisan bickering that infests our multi-party Parliament, the successful candidate would have to receive 50% of the vote plus one. If necessary, a run-off election would be held between the top two candidates if any candidate failed to receive a majority; this would ensure that the winner had the support of the majority of Canadians. This method would also re-invigorate the institution of the GG and provide us with a representative of the Head of State and a Commander-in-Chief who had some respect and admiration. It would silence critics who are unhappy with the current institution and its un-democratic colonial overtones while still maintaining the link with the constitutional monarch.

2. Use an Electoral College

For those who think that directly electing the GG is a tad too republican, how about imitating our republican neighbours to the south and establishing an electoral college to choose the GG? The federal government and each provincial legislature could appoint electors who would then select the GG from a list of candidates put forward by the federal and provincial governments. The provinces would decide how their electors are selected. Or, if that's too radical, allow the Privy Council to select the candidate. The Privy Council consists of all living current and former federal cabinet ministers, the Chief Justices of Canada, and all former Governors-General, plus the Leader of the Opposition and often leaders or other members of opposition parties; definitely an experienced and diverse group.

I'm not a constitutional expert, but surely either of these methods would be an improvement over the current system. The institution of Governor-General is worth preserving, but if it is to command any respect from Canadians, especially in constitutional crises, it has to be seen as legitimate. So - Stephen Harper, or whoever is PM when the time comes: if you need my advice, call me.

The freedom of the right winger

Ann Althouse, on being labelled a "right-leaning blogger":
And let me say now that one thing I love about being a right-winger in the sense that I'm said to be a right-winger is this amazingly wide range of freedom of opinion it provides. There is no such liberation for the lefty.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

How to reduce your carbon footprint

From The Onion: a handy flow chart explains how carbon offsets work:

click to enlarge

Gay marriage & social conservatism

From a comment to a post at Hot Air about the Republican party & its stance on adoption by gay couples:
On a semi-serious note, the fundamental problem with this debate is that conservatives have forgotten the reason they support traditionalism.

They see the trees but miss the forest. Sure, they remember to prattle on endlessly about gays and the media and abortion and sex on television … but somewhere along the line, they forgot why they do it.

Here’s a clue: the foundation of social conservatism is both strong and fundamentally correct. Traditionalism is embraced not because it is right or because somebody’s God tells you to act that way … but because it WORKS.

Basic civil values, the core family unit, holding onto foundational principles, respecting tradition … we don’t do these things for no reason. We do them because they WORK as building blocks of society.

But too many conservatives forget this … so they join together as equally evil things like rampant drug use and mindless promiscuity (bad) with homosexual marriage or gays wanting to start families (bad?).

It’s the ultimate irony. On any logical basis, a stable, solid, committed, monogamous gay relationship is infinitely better than a string of broken, abusive heterosexual relationships.

Yet it is gays wanting to marry - in other words, gays wanting to embrace the core of social conservatism - that conservatives get upset about.

We have countless single heterosexual mothers and deadbeat heterosexual fathers and cracked-up burned-out waste-case parents abusing their kids (but all perfectly heterosexual!) …. and somehow we think its conservative to keep children needing parents in institutions (or in the hell of foster care) rather than let them be adopted by gay couples?

It’s madness. It’s ironically an assault on conservatism.

Someday we’ll remember the reason for social conservatism. Until then, we’ll continue to waste time on meaningless, counter-productive arguments, and continue to harm the very social values we pretend to uphold.

And as an unfortunate consequence, we’ll keep losing elections, too.

I agree - gay marriage is an issue social conservatives in Canada should be able to support for traditional conservative reasons. I posted on this at length here.

(HT: Average Gay Joe)

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Coalition precedent permanently stacks the deck

A lot of ink has been spilled regarding the recent shenanigans in Ottawa, and I've been tempted to just sit back & enjoy the show. However, I would like to point out a result of a Liberal-NDP coalition that should worry everyone regardless of one's position on the political spectrum. If this coalition sets a Canadian parliamentary precedent, it will permanently stack the deck in the House of Commons in favour of the Liberals and make it practically impossible to change governments unless another party gets an outright majority.

In the Westminster tradition, the party that can command the confidence of the House of Commons has the right to form a government. No quibbles there - the rule is clear. However, things get dicey in a multi-party parliament where no party commands an outright majority. Tradition dictates that the Governor-General call on the party with the most seats to form a government. It is this tradition that is at risk here, and that may result in a permanent Liberal hegemony.

In the current House there are four parties. Only one, the CPC, represents the centre-right of the political spectrum - the rest are crowded on the left. If, as in countries like Italy or Israel, the governing party has to rely on a coalition with another party, the CPC is handed a structural disadvantage. Since no other party in the House is ever, under any circumstances, willing to support the CPC and the remaining three parties are politically allied with each other, it becomes impossible for Conservatives to form a government in a minority situation even if more voters support them than any other party. Similarly, the Liberals can automatically form a government with the support of the other two parties even if their voter support is a fraction of that of the Conservatives.

I can forsee the comments already - "Them's the breaks, majority rules, more people voted AGAINST the CPC than for it". True, but voters don't vote against parties, they vote for them. They cast their ballots in Canadian elections knowing full well that the party with the most seats gets the prize even if they're shy of an outright majority. It happened to Pierre Trudeau and Paul Martin, after all - the tradition holds when Stephen Harper is in the driver's seat. How many voters who chose the Liberals in the last election would have voted otherwise (especially in Quebec) if they had known that a vote for the Liberals meant that the NDP would hold six cabinet posts and the Bloc Quebecois would hold the balance of power?

Coalition governments are NOT the tradition in Canada, regardless of what goes on in other countries with parliamentary systems. Citizens of Canada do NOT vote under the assumption that minor parties will form a coalition government. In a healthy democracy, it should be relatively easy to defeat the governing party regardless of its political ideology. A coalition precedent gives the Liberals a structural advantage that now gives them power with a mere 26% of the popular vote. If we can't kick out a party that only gets a quarter of the support of the electorate, how is that democratic? If voters had been told in the last election that a Liberal-NDP-Bloc coalition was a likely outcome, the results would have been very different.

Monday, December 01, 2008

"A shopping Guernica"

Ed Driscoll opines on an unfortunate lapse at the New York Times, which recently compared the trampling death of a WalMart employee during a frenzied Thanksgiving sale to the fascist attack on Guernica during the Spanish Civil War:
I'd excuse a high school or sophomoric college newspaper journalist making such an overwrought analogy. But if the New York Times and its writers and editors can't see the difference between an unfortunate shopping incident and the Spanish Civil War, one wonders what value the newspaper has as an information source to be trusted by their readers.

Australia's 1975 constitutional crisis

It looks like Canada may be in the midst of a constitutional crisis whereby the role of the Governor-General is suddenly and unusually in the spotlight. Canadian pundits often cite the so-called "King-Byng affair" as a precedent in situations like this, but Australia's parliamentary government went through a similar crisis in 1975. Governor-General Sir John Kerr dismissed Prime Minister Gough Whitlam and appointed the Leader of the Opposition Malcolm Fraser as "caretaker Prime Minister" on the assumption that Fraser would ask for a dissolution of Parliament and advise Kerr to call an election. The incident cast light on some unwritten and often vague conventions in the Westminster parliamentary tradition, specifically the defacto supremacy of the lower house of Parliament and the ability of the Governor-General to act independently of the advice of the Prime Minister. Wikipedia has a good outline of the crisis here. Some excerpts:
Constitutional precedent had long established that the Governor-General was expected to take no action except upon 'advice' (de facto direction) received from the Prime Minister, and Whitlam confidently assumed this would be the case during the crisis. However, according to the Australian Constitution, and in accordance with established practice in other Westminster style constitutional monarchies, the Governor-General still possessed wide ranging reserve powers to dissolve parliament and sack the government on his own initiative, in certain limited circumstances. These reserve powers had not been carried out by any monarch since King William IV in 1834, and it was a matter of academic and legal debate as to whether they still existed in reality.

It would later become apparent that Kerr and Whitlam were at odds over whether the Governor-General had the power to act independently of the Prime Minister in times of crisis.

On 30 October, Kerr proposed a compromise solution to Whitlam and Fraser, in which Fraser would let the budget pass in return for Whitlam abandoning plans to call an early Senate election, but Fraser rejected this. On 2 November Fraser offered to pass the budget if Whitlam would agree to call an election before the middle of 1976, but Whitlam in turn rejected this, citing the constitutional convention that only he, as Prime Minister, could advise the Governor-General to call an election. There is considerable evidence that Kerr had discussions with Fraser independently, against Whitlam's advice. When Whitlam rejected Fraser's proposal, it seems, Kerr decided that Whitlam was the one unwilling to bend.

By November, Fraser and the Opposition began to ramp up pressure on Kerr to take action against Whitlam, threatening to criticise him publicly if he did not do so. Around this time, Fraser and Liberal MPs began calling for Kerr to use his reserve power to dismiss Whitlam, claiming that this was the only constitutional option if a Prime Minister who loses supply does not call an election or resign.

...

On the morning of 11 November, Whitlam arranged to see the Governor-General at Yarralumla. The Prime Minister arrived without the knowledge that Fraser had also been summoned but had arrived earlier. Whitlam also carried with him a letter requesting official approval for a half-Senate election in order to break the deadlock.

However, just as Whitlam was formally tendering his advice that Kerr request the State Governors to issue writs for a half-Senate election, Kerr cut him off and asked him if he intended to advise a House election as well. When Whitlam said no, Kerr stated that there was no prospect of the crisis being resolved otherwise. He then informed Whitlam that he was terminating his commission as Prime Minister and handed him a pre-written letter to that effect--thus preempting any plans Whitlam might have had to advise the Queen to dismiss Kerr.

A few minutes later, Kerr summoned Fraser. At this point, Kerr asked Fraser whether, if commissioned as Prime Minister, he would 1) pass the budget; 2) advise a double dissolution election (in which both the House and Senate would be up for election) and 3) enact no new policies, make no appointments and initiate no inquiries into Whitlam's government pending the election. When Fraser answered "yes" to all questions, Kerr commissioned him as the caretaker Prime Minister of Australia. Years later, Fraser claimed that Kerr had asked him the same questions earlier in the day over the phone, something which Kerr adamantly denied in his memoirs.

Fraser then instructed his Senators to pass the budget and advised Kerr to call a double dissolution election for 13 December. The Liberal and National Country Party Senators voted to pass the Supply bills, along with the Labor Senators. However, the Labor Senators were largely not yet aware that Whitlam and his government had been dismissed (because Whitlam, plotting to defeat Fraser on the floor of the House of Representatives, had omitted to tell them). In any case it would have been useless for the Labor Senators to vote against supply. Fraser advised the House that he had been appointed Prime Minister. The House passed a motion of no confidence in Fraser, who had left the House shortly after his announcement and did not participate in the debate. The Speaker, Gordon Scholes, suspended the session in order for him to call on Kerr to advise him that Fraser did not have the confidence of the House, and to request him to withdraw Fraser's commission and invite Whitlam to form a new government. By the time Kerr received Scholes at 4:45 p.m., however, Kerr had already given Royal Assent to the Supply bills and dissolved Parliament on Fraser's advice, so the no confidence motion was rendered null and void.

Amongst general din and shouts from hecklers amongst the crowd that had quickly gathered as the news had spread, the Official Secretary to the Governor-General, David Smith read out the proclamation of the dissolution of Parliament from the steps of Parliament House. The proclamation ended with the words "God Save the Queen". Whitlam then addressed the assembled press and onlookers:

Well may we say "God save the Queen" because nothing will save the Governor-General. The proclamation you have just heard read by the Governor-General's Official Secretary was countersigned "Malcolm Fraser", who will undoubtedly go down in Australian history from Remembrance Day 1975 as Kerr's Cur.