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

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

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Tim Horton's deal prompts another round of embarrassing Canadian navel-gazing

The merger between Burger King and Tim Horton's has produced such a flood of melodramatic hyperventilating among the pearl-clutching pundits north of the border that one would think the Dominion was in grave danger unprecedented since the damned Yankees crossed the Niagara River at Queenston Heights in 1812. Judging by all the press, a double-double and a donut should be engraved on the back of the twenty dollar bill.

The craziest nonsense so far has come, predictably, from the NDP's industry critic Peggy Nash, who solemnly intoned on Monday that "we want to make sure those jobs are protected as well as ensure that the Tim Hortons brand and the Tim Hortons experience continue to be part of our Canadian society". Wait - we're still talking about donut shops, right? The "Tim Horton's experience" is a vital element of Canadian society that must be protected by the federal government? I suppose we could make sure that the nation's strategic reserves of coffee and Timbits are guaranteed in perpetuity by nationalizing the whole chain and turning it over to Parks Canada which would run "Tim Horton's Experience" historic sites across the land, in both official languages of course. Then we could sleep soundly at night. And by the way, isn't this the same Peggy Nash who complained earlier this year that the Conservatives' job strategy was woefully inadequate because "too many of the jobs being created are low-paying and part-time", kind of like the jobs at oh, I don't know, Tim Horton's?

That's OK, I thought - this kind of over-reaction is limited to socialist MPs and CBC reporters. The average Canadian blue-collar Timmy's customer probably doesn't care one way or another. That was until I had breakfast in an Ottawa diner on Tuesday morning, and my companion innocently asked the waitress what she thought of the merger. "I'm totally against it" she replied."I don't approve of American companies coming up here taking over Canadian businesses." When I pointed out that the newly merged company would in fact be a Canadian company with its headquarters in Canada, she seemed surprised to hear that. She rallied with the emphatic statement that "the Americans are just coming up here to take advantage of our low taxes." I wager that such an astonishing phrase has never been uttered in this country before this week. After a moment of surprised silence, I replied that this indeed was a good thing, since Burger King would be paying corporate taxes as a Canadian company, just like Tim Horton's already does. She didn't agree, and replied that it just wasn't right that a company should want to pay lower taxes, and she didn't want companies like that up here. Now that's a true Canadian sentiment if I ever heard one.

The hysterical over-reaction to the Burger King-Tim Horton's merger is embarrassing. Only an immature and insecure country would link its national identity to a chain of donut shops and worry that a strategic merger with an American hamburger company is a threat to our cultural sovereignty. It's time we grew up.

Friday, June 13, 2014

An election post-mortem

Some random thoughts about last night's catastrophe.
  1. So-called social-conservative issues like gay marriage, abortion and the "war on religion" were not, to my knowledge, mentioned once in the campaign. This is a good thing, and the PCs need to continue doing this. If the party hopes to break out of its rural fortress and appeal to urban voters, let sleeping dogs lie.
  2. Speaking of urban voters, I had a look at the electoral map this morning, and it is telling. Liberal support is almost exclusively urban, concentrated in the Toronto/Hamilton corridor, metro Ottawa, and university towns like Kitchener-Waterloo and London (which were shared with the NDP). The NDP's support is mostly in Northern Ontario, Windsor, eastern Niagara (all economically depressed), and a few urban ridings. The rest of the rural, sparsely-populated province is Tory blue. The PC party needs to wake up to this fact: if it can't come up with a coherent fiscally-responsible platform that appeals to urban voters and isn't delivered by someone who reminds them of Jethro Clampett, then it is doomed for the forseeable future. 
  3. I'm sure Tim Hudak is a nice guy, but he's a terrible campaigner and I'm glad he resigned last night. Every time I saw him on TV I cringed, what with his rictus grin, his constant hand-waving and his wooden "Bueller ... Bueller ... anyone?" delivery. Winston Churchill he ain't. I wish him well, but he's been a big disappointment as leader. In addition, the wonks who run the party should also fall on their swords. There needs to be a purge of the party organization and a complete re-tooling. As Talleyrand said of the last Bourbon monarchs of France - "they have learned nothing and forgotten nothing".
  4. Memo to the PC party:  GO NEGATIVE for God's sake!!! Hudak's decision to run a positive campaign and concentrate on his platform was a huge mistake. The past two elections have seen the PCs up against an ethically and morally bankrupt incumbent government that is running the province into the ground, propped up for the last two years by the NDP, and yet Hudak barely mentioned that glaring fact. Voters should have been confronted daily by the Liberal party's long record of malfeasance and outright chicanery. Somewhere at Harvard Dalton McGuinty is laughing into his soy decaf latté.
  5. Hudak's biggest mistakes were the promise to cut 100 000 jobs from the civil service and the "Million Jobs Plan". Attaching nice round numbers to the platform, seemingly pulled out of a hat, practically invited criticism. The job cuts figure allowed the opposition to trot out the supposed widows and orphans who would be hurt or outright killed by Scary Tim, and the Million Jobs platform brought out the opposition bean counters who picked apart the statistics and handed the Liberals their "Bad Math" slogan. Hudak lost control of the debate at that point and it became bogged down in trivial arguments among ivory tower academics. Hudak then doubled down, promising to resign in two years if his goals weren't met - this smacked of desperation. The platform should be made up of broad ideological principles and goals like personal liberty, fiscal responsibility, easing the regulatory load on business, and  lower taxes. The Liberal platform was devoid of both hard numbers AND ideological principles, and they were returned with a majority - go figure.
  6. There is a small silver lining; for the next four years Kathleen Wynne now owns the mess her party created. It's with a certain amount of schadenfreude that I'll watch her twist and squirm as she has to deal with the credit rating agencies and the public sector unions without having the NDP to kick around anymore. 
Ontario is in for a world of hurt, and if from the ruins the PCs can't craft a viable alternative in 2018, then we don't deserve to form the government. And now, I'm going to cry in my beer.

Friday, May 30, 2014

The legacy of Edward Cornwallis

There's a debate currently raging in Halifax about the city's founder, British Governor Edward Cornwallis, who founded the city in 1749. The agitation is centred on a statue of the Governor in Halifax's downtown Cornwallis Square:
Last May, an unknown vandal spray-painted “Self righteous ass” on a statue of Halifax founder Edward Cornwallis, the 18th century British military governor who once placed 10 guinea bounties on Mi’kmaq scalps. In 2001, someone else doused the statue in red paint and scrawled “killed natives” on its base.
At the city’s 250th birthday party, an actor dressed as Cornwallis was forbidden from speaking and in 2011, a Nova Scotia school was renamed to scrub out Cornwallis’ violent legacy. And now, some Haligonians are wondering whether they even need a statue of Cornwallis at all. 
The debate is largely about a contentious proclamation Cornwallis issued in an attempt to deal with a violent uprising by Mi'kmaq natives who were targeting the British settlements in Acadia. It reads:
His Majesty’s Council do hereby authorize and command all Officers Civil and Military, and all his Majesty’s Subjects of others to annoy, distress, take or destroy the Savage commonly called the Micmac, wherever they are found,” it read. “[And] promise a reward of ten Guineas for ever Indian Micmac taken or killed, to be paid upon producing such Savage taken or his scalp.
We have a tendency to look at historical issues like the Cornwallis administration through the lens of modern grievances. The "Scalping Proclamation" is indeed horrific by modern standards, but it must be taken in context. The Mi'kmaq weren't exactly Boy Scouts - there had been a series of brutal Mi'kmaq attacks on British settlers in Acadia leading up to the proclamation, and indeed the Mi'kmaq themselves were being paid by the French to collect British scalps. In a 1749 raid on Dartmouth, across the harbour from Halifax, a month before Cornwallis' proclamation, Mi'kmaq warriors attacked a British party cutting firewood:
On September 30, 1749, about forty Mi'kmaq attacked six men who were in Dartmouth cutting trees. The Mi'kmaq killed four of them on the spot, took one prisoner and one escaped. Two of the men were scalped and the heads of the others were cut off. The attack was on the saw mill at Dartmouth Cove, which was under the command of Major Ezekiel Gilman. A detachment of rangers was sent after the raiding party and cut off the heads of two Mi'kmaq and scalped one.
To prevent the French and Wabanaki Confederacy massacres of British families, on October 2, 1749, Governor Edward Cornwallis offered a bounty on the head of every Mi'kmaq. Prior to Cornwallis, there was a long history of Massachusetts Governors issuing bounties for the scalps of Indian men, women, and children. Cornwallis followed New England's example. He set the amount at the same rate that the Mi'kmaq received from the French for British scalps. The British military paid the Rangers the same rate per scalp as the French military paid the Mi'kmaq for British scalps.
Despite Cornwallis' efforts to defend the community, in July 1750, the Mi'kmaq killed and scalped 7 men who were at work in Dartmouth. In August 1750, 353 people arrived on the ship Alderney and began the town of Dartmouth. The town was laid out in the autumn of that year. The following month, on September 30, 1750, Dartmouth was attacked again by the Mi'kmaq and five more residents were killed. In October 1750 a group of about eight men went out "to take their diversion; and as they were fowling, they were attacked by the Indians, who took the whole prisoners; scalped ... [one] with a large knife, which they wear for that purpose, and threw him into the sea ..."
In March 1751, the Mi’kmaq attacked on two more occasions, bringing the total number of raids to six in the previous two years. Three months later, on May 13, 1751, Broussard led sixty Mi'kmaq and Acadians to attack Dartmouth again, in what would be known as the "Dartmouth Massacre".
Certainly, Edward Cornwallis' legacy in Canada is not without controversy, but that doesn't mean his significance as the founder of one of Canada's oldest cities should be expunged from our collective memory. Halifax as it is today would not exist were it not for Governor Cornwallis. Canada in the 18th century was a brutal, violent place, and for those who make a fetish of our "proud peacekeeping tradition", the colonial wars are an embarrassment. That doesn't mean we should pretend they didn't occur and flush all references to them down the memory hole.

Edward Cornwallis is an important figure in Canadian history, and he deserves a statue in the city he founded. Here's a suggestion - put up a statue of a Mi'kmaq warrior in the same park (or better yet in Dartmouth) and look on it as a teaching experience.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Kathleen Wynne deconstructed

This campaign ad for the Ontario Liberal Party has recently hit the airwaves, and in it the very first words that Kathleen Wynne utters perfectly encapsulate everything I despise about modern liberalism in general, and the Ontario Liberals in particular.

The line is "I believe that government should be a force for good in people's lives". It sounds innocuous - who could argue with good things for people? What's the matter with me - do I want government to make people miserable? Here are the key words that raise my hackles:

Liberals love government. They believe that government has a moral duty to centrally manage every aspect of society to smooth out the bumps in the road of life for all citizens. More government is always a good thing. Believing that government should maybe back off and let people make their own informed decisions about things like smoking tobacco, wearing bicycle helmets, buying beer in corner stores and saving for their own retirement just gives liberals the heebie jeebies. If it saves one life, it's worth it, isn't it?

There's an unsettling undertone of authoritarianism in the liberal world-view. People must be forced to do the right thing - not necessarily by armed police, but by vast bureaucracies and myriads of pettifogging regulations enforced by legions of inspectors and commissioners. People must be forced to support programs deemed to be for the good of society, not necessarily at the point of a gun but by confiscatory taxation that removes a citizen's discretion to spend money on things that he chooses for himself.

The heavy-handed influence of the state in people's lives is always justified, in the mind of a liberal, by the argument that it's for the common good. This pre-supposes that it is possible for a diverse population to agree on what constitutes the common good; the job of doing this is left ultimately to the government itself. The concept is also used to stifle dissent - people who disagree with the government's agenda for good are labelled racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, or anti-environment. Whatever the government deems worthy of its warm embrace is then protected from criticism in the name of the common good. What kind of monster would argue against good things? "The issue is settled" - thus spake the Premier.

People's lives
Here's the nub of the liberal ideology. We're not arguing about things like filling potholes, collecting garbage, building highways or defending the borders, all of which are legitimate roles for government. Liberals want to be intimately involved in people's lives. To a liberal, government has a duty to prevent people from making bad decisions and to force people to make good ones, and the government knows better than you do what is good for you. I bristle when I hear things like this from politicians. Society is made up of individuals making individual decisions, for good or ill, and they should be left alone to make those decisions and to enjoy their property except when another individual is at risk of harm as a result.

Kathleen Wynne is portraying herself as the kindly mother-figure who will lead us all to the sunny meadows of a prosperous Ontario where we all live forever in peace, harmony and equity. This of course must come with a massive intrusion of the state into the lives of individual citizens, and the past eight years of Dalton McGuinty preaching the same sermon has shown where this leads.

Friday, May 09, 2014

Adventures in bureaucracy at Passport Canada

My sister is planning a trip to the US this summer and needed to renew her passport. I was planning to be in Ottawa this week anyway, so I told her I'd drop off her completed application package at the Ottawa office of Passport Canada, which is where it would have ended up if she had mailed it. Sounds simple enough.

A certain pettifogging torpor permeates large organizations, and never so much so as in government departments that are immune to competition. Such was the case at the Ottawa branch of Passport Canada. When I arrived, there was a single long queue of customers and no signage of any sort with instructions for the perplexed. It seemed obvious that I should join the queue, so I did. When I got to the front there were eight wickets with clerks behind them. I waited for one to open up (it was wicket #4) and then approached. The guy behind the glass said "Do you have a number?" I replied "No, I didn't know I needed a number." He said "You need a number." I asked "Where do I get a number?" He gestured back towards the queue and said "Over there."

I asked the commissionaire where I was supposed to get the aforementioned number- he said "You have to line up in the queue and then go to wicket 1 or 2." Sigh. I rejoined the queue and worked my way to the front a second time.

With my number in hand, I was told to sit in the waiting area until my number was called. A few minutes later I approached Wicket #5.  The following conversation occurred with the clerk, whom I'll call "Betty".
Me: "I'm here to drop off a passport application for my sister." 
Betty:  "Do you live at the same address?" 
Me: "No." 
Betty: "Do you have a letter of authorization from your sister to drop off her passport application?" 
Me:  "No, it doesn't say anywhere on the form [which is three pages long, by the way] that I need a letter of authorization." 
Betty:  "Well, you can't drop off someone else's passport application without authorization. Can we call her to get her to authorize you?" 
Me:  "No, she's not available during the work day. She signed the forms, isn't that enough?" 
Betty:  "No." 
Me:  "So let me get this straight. If she had just mailed the forms to Passport Canada, you would process them, but if I drop off the exact same forms right at your office, you won't process them?" 
Betty:  "That's correct. It's a totally different process." 
Me:  "Of course it is. Just give me back the forms - I'll mail them."
So I left the Passport Canada office in a funk, drove across town to a post office, paid $2.05 in postage and mailed the package to - you guessed it - Passport Canada, Ottawa.


Saturday, April 05, 2014

Blues for a Saturday Night

Tonight's selection: Blackbird Song by Lee DeWyze, from The Walking Dead soundtrack

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Blues for a Saturday Night

Tonight's selection: I Need Your Love So Bad, a very early song by Fleetwood Mac (1968)

Earth Hour 2014

I'm celebrating tonight by driving my SUV to an expensive restaurant that's keeping all its lights on and cooking with fossil fuels. Meanwhile in Pyongyang ...

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Blues for a Saturday Night

Tonight's selection: Poison Milk, by Sallie Ford and the Sound Outside

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

The Death of Statesmanship

It's hard not to draw parallels between the current crisis in Ukraine and the 1938 crisis in Czechoslovakia, when British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain negotiated the Munich Agreement with Hitler that surrendered the Czech Sudetenland to Nazi Germany and agreed to the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia.

What is most striking to me is the mediocrity of the leaders of the West in their response to Russian aggression in the Crimea. This is from a press conference President Obama, Leader of the Free World, gave today :
I know President Putin seems to have a different set of lawyers making a different set of interpretations but I don't think that's fooling anybody. I think everybody recognizes that although Russia has legitimate interests in what happens in a neighboring state that does not give it the right to use force as a means of exerting influence inside of that state.
Secretary of State John Kerry stepped up with this statement, telling the Russians that if they didn't back off
... then our partners will have absolutely no choice (but) to join us to continue to expand on steps we have taken in recent days to isolate Russia diplomatically, politically and economically.
Well, that's telling them. I bet they're quaking in their valenki over at the Kremlin.

When Neville Chamberlain sacrificed Czechoslovakia to Hitler in 1938, Leader of the Opposition Winston Churchill gave this blistering speech in the House of Commons on October 5 1938. Here are some excerpts:
I will, therefore, begin by saying the most unpopular and most unwelcome thing. I will begin by saying what everybody would like to ignore or forget but which must nevertheless be stated, namely, that we have sustained a total and unmitigated defeat, and that France has suffered even more than we have.
The utmost my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has been able to secure by all his immense exertions, by all the great efforts and mobilisation which took place in this country, and by all the anguish and strain through which we have passed in this country, the utmost he has been able to gain for Czechoslovakia in the matters which were in dispute has been that the German dictator, instead of snatching the victuals from the table, has been content to have them served to him course by course.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer [Sir John Simon] said it was the first time Herr Hitler had been made to retract - I think that was the word - in any degree. We really must not waste time after all this long Debate upon the difference between the positions reached at Berchtesgaden, at Godesberg and at Munich. They can be very simply epitomised, if the House will permit me to vary the metaphor. £1 was demanded at the pistol's point. When it was given, £2 were demanded at the pistol's point. Finally, the dictator consented to take £1 17s. 6d. and the rest in promises of goodwill for the future.
All is over. Silent, mournful, abandoned, broken, Czechoslovakia recedes into the darkness. She has suffered in every respect by her association with the Western democracies and with the League of Nations, of which she has always been an obedient servant. She has suffered in particular from her association with France, under whose guidance and policy she has been actuated for so long.
We are in the presence of a disaster of the first magnitude which has befallen Great Britain and France. Do not let us blind ourselves to that. It must now be accepted that all the countries of Central and Eastern Europe will make the best terms they can with the triumphant Nazi power. The system of alliances in Central Europe upon which France has relied for her safety has been swept away, and I can see no means by which it can be reconstituted. The road down the Danube Valley to the Black Sea, the road which leads as far as Turkey, has been opened.
I do not grudge our loyal, brave people, who were ready to do their duty no matter what the cost, who never flinched under the strain of last week - I do not grudge them the natural, spontaneous outburst of joy and relief when they learned that the hard ordeal would no longer be required of them at the moment; but they should know the truth. They should know that there has been gross neglect and deficiency in our defences; they should know that we have sustained a defeat without a war, the consequences of which will travel far with us along our road; they should know that we have passed an awful milestone in our history, when the whole equilibrium of Europe has been deranged, and that the terrible words have for the time being been pronounced against the Western democracies:
"Thou art weighed in the balance and found wanting."
And do not suppose that this is the end. This is only the beginning of the reckoning. This is only the first sip, the first foretaste of a bitter cup which will be proffered to us year by year unless by a supreme recovery of moral health and martial vigour, we arise again and take our stand for freedom as in the olden time.
The Russian aggression in Ukraine cannot stand, but the West is being led by pygmies. Come back Churchill - we need you.

Monday, March 03, 2014

Crimea then and now

As the crisis unfolds in Ukraine, it is enlightening to read accounts of a previous confrontation between the West and Russia - the Crimean War of 1853-1856, when Britain, France and the Ottoman Empire confronted Russia over control of Ottoman territories bordering the Russian Empire (including Ukraine). One is struck particularly by the mealy-mouthed response by western leaders to the current aggression compared to the belligerent oratory of the 19th century.

Browse through the Hansard record of the debate about war with Russia in the British House of Commons on March 31 1854. Here is Lord Palmerston, Leader of the Opposition:
The question we have to consider is this, whether Turkey is to lie prostrate at the feet of one great overwhelming Power—whether one Power is to bestride the globe from the north to the south, from the Baltic to the Mediterranean, to dictate to Germany, to domineer in the Mediterranean, to have the whole of the rest of Europe at its mercy to deal with as it pleases—or whether that Power shall be taught that there are limits even to the ambition of a Czar—that there are limits even to the conquest of a military empire, of which one may say that the whole territory is one great camp, and the population one recruiting depôt—and that in spite of the power which a Sovereign may be able to sway—in spite of the military resources which he is able to command—that there does exist in the Powers of Europe a respect for the principles of national independence—that there does exist in the Powers of Europe a determination to resist the overwhelming encroachments of any Power, be that Power what it may—and that we are able, as we are willing, since resort to arms has become necessary, to maintain in arms, by sea and by land, the liberties of Europe and the independence of nations.
Compare that to alleged master-orator Barack Obama's speech today:
It would be a clear violation of Russia’s commitment to respect the independence and sovereignty and borders of Ukraine, and of international laws. And just days after the world came to Russia for the Olympic games, it would invite the condemnation of nations around the world. And indeed, the United States will stand with the international community in affirming that there will be costs for any military intervention in Ukraine.
The events of the past several months remind us of how difficult democracy can be in a country with deep divisions. But the Ukrainian people have also reminded us that human beings have a human universal right to determine their own future.
Right now, the situation remains very fluid. Vice President Biden just spoke with prime minister -- the prime minister of Ukraine to assure him that in this difficult moment, the United States supports his government’s efforts and stands for the sovereignty, territorial integrity and democratic future of Ukraine.
I also commend the Ukrainian government’s restraint and its commitment to uphold its international obligations. We will continue to coordinate closely with our European allies, we will continue to communicate directly with the Russian government, and we will continue to keep all of you in the press corps and the American people informed as events develop.
Thanks very much.
There will be costs! Condemnation! We're going to continue to coordinate closely with our allies!  We'll keep you informed as events develop!

Good god, this guy's the leader of the free world and this is the speech he gives while Russian troop carriers are rolling into the Ukraine?

As Bette Davis said in All About Eve - "Fasten your seatbelts. It's going to be a bumpy night."

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Blues for a Saturday Night

Tonight's selection:  Blow With Ry, by Nicky Hopkins, Ry Cooder, Mick Jagger, Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts:

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Blues for a Saturday Night

Tonight's selection: Dust Bowl by Joe Bonamassa, recorded in a live acoustic performance at the Vienna Opera House