In modern times, “truthiness” — a “truth” asserted “from the gut” or because “it feels right,” without regard to evidence or logic5 — is also a key part of political discourse. It is difficult to imagine life without it, and our political discourse is weakened by Orwellian laws that try to prohibit it.
After all, where would we be without the knowledge that Democrats are pinko-communist flag-burners who want to tax churches and use the money to fund abortions so they can use the fetal stem cells to create pot-smoking lesbian ATF agents who will steal all the guns and invite the UN to take over America? Voters have to decide whether we’d be better off electing Republicans, those hateful, assault-weapon-wielding maniacs who believe that George Washington and Jesus Christ incorporated the nation after a Gettysburg reenactment and that the only thing wrong with the death penalty is that it isn’t administered quickly enough to secular-humanist professors of Chicano studies.
Everybody knows that the economy is better off under [Republican/Democratic]6 presidents — who control it directly with big levers in the Oval Office — and that:
President Obama is a Muslim.
President Obama is a Communist.
President Obama was born in Kenya.
Nearly half of Americans pay no taxes.7
One percent of Americans control 99 percent of the world’s wealth.
Obamacare will create death panels.
Republicans oppose immigration reform because they’re racists.
The Supreme Court is a purely political body that is evangelically [liberal/conservative].8
All of the above statements could be considered “truthy,” yet all contribute to our political discourse.
5. Wikipedia.com, Truthiness, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Truthiness (last visited Feb. 28, 2014) (describing the term’s coinage by Stephen Colbert during the pilot of his show in October 2005). See also Dictionary.com, Truthiness, http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/truthiness (last visited Feb. 28, 2014).
6. Circle as appropriate.
7. 47 percent to be exact, though it may be higher by now.
8. Again, pick your truth.
Ilya Shapiro and P.J. O’Rourke, BRIEF OF AMICI CURIAE CATO INSTITUTE AND P.J. O’ROURKE IN SUPPORT OF PETITIONERS, Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus [PDF], 2014-02-28
March 5, 2014
The BBC‘s Steve Rosenberg says that to understand what Russia is doing, you have to get into the mind of the man who controls it all:
One thing that makes Vladimir Putin mad is the feeling that he is being deceived. We saw that with Libya in 2011. Moscow was persuaded not to block a UN Security Council resolution on a no-fly zone to protect civilians. But Nato’s military action led to regime change and the death of Col Muammar Gaddafi — far beyond what Russia had expected. It helps explain why Russia has been quick to veto resolutions on Syria.
On Ukraine, too, President Putin feels the West has tricked him. Last month he sent his envoy to Kiev to take part in negotiations on a compromise agreement between President Viktor Yanukovych and the opposition. That deal, brokered by foreign ministers from Germany, France and Poland, envisaged early elections, constitutional reform and a national unity government.
The Kremlin’s representative did not sign the deal, but Russia appeared to accept it as the best solution in a bad situation. It remained words only. Less than 24 hours later, Mr Yanukovych was on the run, the parliament removed him from power and appointed a new acting president from the opposition. The pace of events took Moscow completely by surprise.
The world according to Vladimir Putin is one in which Western powers are plotting night and day to destabilise Russia (and him, personally).
He remembers the Rose Revolution in Georgia in 2003, the Orange Revolution in Kiev the following year; Russia suspected the West of planning both.
More recently the Kremlin accused the West of funding and fuelling anti-government street protests in Moscow.
For months, Russia has been accusing the US and EU of meddling in Ukraine for geopolitical gains. On Tuesday President Putin said Viktor Yanukovych’s refusal to sign an association agreement with the EU last autumn “was simply used as an excuse to back opposition forces in their battle for power… it’s not the first time our Western partners have done this in Ukraine”.
Jonah Goldberg thinks that Obama’s proposed “My Brother’s Keeper” should pass constitutional muster despite grumbling from the usual suspects:
The statistics are gloomy and familiar: One out of 15 black men is behind bars; one out of three can expect to be incarcerated at some point in his life.
The simplistic talk about how this is all the result of white racism misses the scope and nature of the problem. The vast majority of interracial violent crime is black on white. But most violent crime is actually intra-racial (i.e., black on black or white on white). Still, blacks are far more likely to die from homicide; half of murder victims are black, which may partly explain why black men in prison have a higher life expectancy than black men out of prison. And this leaves out all of the challenges — educational, economic, etc. — facing black men that don’t show up in crime statistics.
Roger Clegg, president of the Center for Equal Opportunity, also thinks the program is unconstitutional because there is no “compelling” government interest here: “It may be that a disproportionate number of blacks and Latinos are at-risk, but many are not, and many whites, Asians and others are. This is just another kind of ‘profiling.’”
Yes and no. Obviously there are at-risk youth of all races, but the problems facing young black men are so disproportionate, the difference of degree becomes a difference in kind. Yet, I also think Clegg is obviously right that this is another kind of profiling.
There’s an intriguing double standard that tangles up the Right and the Left. We’re told it is outrageous for government to assume that a young black male (in some contexts) is more likely to commit a crime; we’re also told that government should target young black men for help because they are more likely to commit crimes. Most liberals hate law-enforcement profiling but support — for want of a better term — social-justice profiling. For conservatives, it’s vice versa (though Clegg opposes both kinds of profiling, it’s worth noting). Yet the empirical arguments for positive and negative profiling are the same: The plight of young black men is different.
Paul Wells points out some interesting facts about the political situation in Quebec and sums it up as “and then a referendum ate them all”:
2. In 2007 the PQ ran on a relatively mild version of its traditional calling card, nationalism, and a now-vanished party, the ADQ, ran on what might politely be termed populist nativism. Together they held Jean Charest’s Liberals to a minority, but if a single party could combine nationalism and nativism, it might box the Liberals in more completely than two could. That’s the calculation Jean-François Lisée made, and first as Marois’s counsellor and then as a rookie MNA and senior cabinet minister, he has encouraged the PQ’s transformation into a party with much of the appeal those two parties had in 2007. The rest of Quebec politics, and especially, the Liberals, have had 8 years to prepare for the play the Marois-Lisée PQ is making, without much success. All elections are unpredictable and Quebec has been surprising in many ways lately, but I’d bet a loonie (though not a penny more) that the PQ wins a majority.
4. Will she hold a secession referendum? If I were Lisée, I would tell her this: PQ premiers who didn’t hold referendums are not remembered fondly today. Pierre Marc Johnson, Bouchard, Landry. The two who did are heroes of the movement, even though they lost: René Lévesque and Parizeau. To which group would Marois rather belong?
5. In a referendum, political Canada would be represented by a No committee leader, Couillard, who would have just lost an election; a federal prime minister, Stephen Harper, whose party is far less popular in Quebec than Jean Chrétien’s Liberals ever were; and by a reasonably impressive B team (Thomas Mulcair and Justin Trudeau) whose members cannot conceivably work effectively with one another.
Update: David Akin says “That’s some franco/non-franco split on the referendum question:”
March 4, 2014
An editorial from last weekend’s Independent:
What the All Party Parliamentary Group on Prostitution broadly proposes is Nordic-style reform, which is what the European Parliament also backed last week. This would shift the burden of prosecution from mostly women sellers to mostly male buyers and pimps. MPs are right to say that one of the root problems with Britain’s laws on the sex trade is that they send conflicting messages about who is in the wrong. If trafficked women, especially, are to be helped, they must be assured that the law is on their side. It is why the MPs want the mass of current legislation consolidated into a single Act, which makes it clear that only those who purchase sex will feel the rigours of the law.
Change along these lines will bitterly disappoint libertarians who want to see the sex trade fully legalised on Dutch or German lines. There is also an argument that it is illogical – another mixed message – to penalise the purchase of sex but not the sale. But, a counter-argument, which the authorities in Sweden, Norway and Iceland deploy with some justification, is that “redistributing guilt” over the sale of sex undoubtedly benefits women who have felt trapped into prostitution and makes life much harder for pimps and traffickers.
The underlying idea is that because many people (especially politicians) dislike the idea that women sell their bodies, it should be made illegal. The troubling reality that a lot of prostitutes are voluntarily in the business requires the would-be banners to come up with a justification that somehow invalidates the individual decisions of those women. The ongoing moral panic over human trafficking is the current choice of vehicle for that. Tim Worstall:
The only possible claim that can be made in favour of the banning of prostitution, or even of the declaration that it is something wrong that we would like to minimise, is that it represents some form of slavery in which people are forced to do things they do not agree to doing voluntarily.
And that is indeed the claim that is being made, see that reference to “trafficking” in the Independent. However, the one thing that we do in fact know about the “slavery” in prostitution is that it doesn’t, in this country at least, actually exist. For we had a plan whereby every single police force in the country went out looking for people who were indeed sex slaves. People who were being forced, against their will, into prostitution (ie, repeatedly raped, a vile crime). And when they had a look through all of the brothels, working flats, saunas and street walkers they could find not one single police force was able to come up with sufficient evidence to charge anyone at all with the crime of holding someone in such sex slavery. Operation Pentameter it was called and it’s the biggest refutation of the hysterical case about trafficking that could possibly have been devised.
The vision some have of people being forced onto the game is simply untrue. What we do in fact have is consenting adults deciding to offer such services as they wish to offer for the cash being proferred to them. And this isn’t something that requires customers to be made into criminals: nor is it something that requires suppliers to be made into criminals either. It’s just not something that requires anyone at all to be made into a criminal. It’s consenting adults deciding what to do with their own bodies.
Update: The Canadian government is conducting a survey on what to do in the wake of the Supreme Court decision that struck down key parts of Canada’s prostitution laws last year. You can participate in the survey here. The public consultation period lasts until March 17.
On December 20, 2013, in the case of Bedford v. Attorney General of Canada 1, the Supreme Court of Canada found three Criminal Code prostitution offences to be unconstitutional and of no force or effect. This decision gives Parliament one year to respond before the judgment takes effect. Input received through this consultation will inform the Government’s response to the Bedford decision.
You will find some specific questions on this issue at the end of this document. To put them in context, here is a brief overview of the current criminal laws addressing prostitution, the Bedford decision, and existing international approaches to prostitution.
H/T to Maggie McNeil for the link.
Jonathan Tobin identifies the problem with President Obama’s pre-emptive media strike against Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu:
President Obama may have thought he was being very clever ambushing Prime Minister Netanyahu with scathing comments about Israeli policies that would be published just before he arrived in the United States for a meeting at the White House and to speak at the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). By slamming Netanyahu’s policies as the primary, if not the sole obstacle to peace in the Middle East, in the now infamous interview with Bloomberg’s Jeffrey Goldberg, the president put the Israeli on the defensive and undermined his attempts to rally support for his positions with both AIPAC members and Congress. That should also have made it more difficult for Netanyahu to resist American pressure to make concessions to the Palestinians in order to help the negotiations sponsored by Secretary of State John Kerry succeed. But the president’s move had to leave those who have actually been following the talks with the Palestinians scratching their heads.
Kerry’s current objective is to get both parties to agree to a framework for continued talks. As has been widely reported, Netanyahu has already signaled his consent to the framework even though he and his Cabinet have grave misgivings about where the talks may eventually lead. By contrast, the Palestinians have repeatedly and publicly rejected the framework. The Palestinians have angrily rejected the framework’s requirement that they recognize Israel as a Jewish state, which is to say they agree to end the conflict rather than merely pause it. They also reject the West Bank security guarantees included in the framework even though it also contains their basic demands about a Palestinian state whose borders will be based on the 1967 borders while leaving open the possibility of territorial swaps. In other words, the Israelis have already given Kerry what he wanted while the Palestinians have done the opposite. Yet Obama still treats Israel as the truant and lauds Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas as a trustworthy warrior for peace even though his government is a font of incitement for hatred against Jews and Israelis and he has repeatedly rejected every previous offer of statehood because he and his people remain unable or unwilling to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn.
By speaking in this manner about Israel, Obama has pleased the Palestinians, Netanyahu’s Jewish critics and Israel-bashers everywhere. But it will also do something else that perhaps the president never intended. He has killed any chance that Kerry’s peace talks could possibly succeed.
The problem isn’t Israel (although they’ve made the situation tougher to resolve in several ways): the problem is that no Palestinian leader dares to accept any proposal that explicitly accepts Israel’s right to exist. If Abbas agreed to that, Abbas himself would probably cease to exist in short order. Arafat at the height of his power didn’t dare to take that step, and no Palestinian leader since Arafat has had as much control, power, or influence among the factions and groups that loosely form Palestine politically. This is known to the American government — it can hardly be much of a secret — but for political reasons it can’t be stated. If one side cannot possibly agree, then in the looking glass world of diplomacy, you must berate the other side for their intransigence. It doesn’t matter who is President … this is the reality that must be ignored or wished away (because it’s not going away on its own).
… incrementally all these tiny tesserae began forming a mosaic, fairly or not, of the Obama administration as either weak or clueless or perhaps both.
Accordingly, Mr. Putin, in empirical fashion, after factoring in the rhetoric and the facts, has decided that it is time, in the fashion of 1979–80, to move with probable impunity. Others are, of course, watching what Obama derides as Cold War chess games. Should Iran now go full bore on its nuclear program? Should China test Japanese waters and airspace a bit more aggressively? Should North Korea try to gain new concessions from its nuclear lunacy? Should the failed Communists of Latin America try forcibly exporting their miseries to neighbors? And all are operating on the shared assumption that the American reaction will be another “outrageous,” “unacceptable,” “don’t cross this line,” or another solemn Kerry lecture about the existential threats of global warming.
For some, like the now furrow-browed Europeans who once giddily lapped up the Victory Column pabulum, there is irony. For the Baltic states, Georgians, the Persian Gulf sheikdoms, the Japanese, the Taiwanese, and the South Koreans, there is increased anxiety about regional strains of Putinism spreading to their own backyards. And among our allies such as the British, Israelis, Canadians, and Australians, there is still polite bewilderment.
This will probably end in either two ways: Either Barack Obama will have his 1980 Jimmy Carter revelatory moment as something like an “Obama Doctrine,” or we could see some pretty scary things in the next three years as regional thugs cash in their chips and begin readjusting the map in their areas of would-be influence.
Victor Davis Hanson, “The Stepping Stones to the Ukraine Crisis”, VDH’s Private Papers, 2014-03-03
According to Robert Zubrin, a key advisor to Vladimir Putin and other Russian leaders has some really weird notions:
Putin is sometimes described as a revanchist, seeking to recreate the Soviet Union. That is a useful shorthand, but it is not really accurate. Putin and many of his gang may have once been Communists, but they are not that today. Rather, they have embraced a new totalitarian political ideology known as “Eurasianism.”
The roots of Eurasianism go back to czarist émigrés interacting with fascist thinkers in between-the-wars France and Germany. But in recent years, its primary exponent has been the very prominent and prolific political theorist Aleksandr Dugin.
Nazism, it will be recalled, was an abbreviation for National Socialism. National Bolshevism, therefore, put itself forth as an ideology that relates to National Socialism in much the same way as Bolshevism relates to Socialism. This open self-identification with Nazism is also shown clearly in the NBP flag, which looks exactly like a Nazi flag, with a red background surrounding a white circle, except that the black swastika at the center is replaced by a black hammer and sickle.
The core idea of Dugin’s Eurasianism is that “liberalism” (by which is meant the entire Western consensus) represents an assault on the traditional hierarchical organization of the world. Repeating the ideas of Nazi theorists Karl Haushofer, Rudolf Hess, Carl Schmitt, and Arthur Moeller van der Bruck, Dugin says that this liberal threat is not new, but is the ideology of the maritime cosmopolitan power “Atlantis,” which has conspired to subvert more conservative land-based societies since ancient times. Accordingly, he has written books in which he has reconstructed the entire history of the world as a continuous battle between these two factions, from Rome v. Carthage to Russia v. the Anglo Saxon “Atlantic Order,” today. If Russia is to win this fight against the subversive oceanic bearers of such “racist” (because foreign-imposed) ideas as human rights, however, it must unite around itself all the continental powers, including Germany, Central and Eastern Europe, the former Soviet republics, Turkey, Iran, and Korea, into a grand Eurasian Union strong enough to defeat the West.
In order to be so united, this Eurasian Union will need a defining ideology, and for this purpose Dugin has developed a new “Fourth Political Theory” combining all the strongest points of Communism, Nazism, Ecologism, and Traditionalism, thereby allowing it to appeal to the adherents of all of these diverse anti-liberal creeds. He would adopt Communism’s opposition to free enterprise. However, he would drop the Marxist commitment to technological progress, a liberal-derived ideal, in favor of Ecologism’s demagogic appeal to stop the advance of industry and modernity. From Traditionalism, he derives a justification for stopping free thought. All the rest is straight out of Nazism, ranging from legal theories justifying unlimited state power and the elimination of individual rights, to the need for populations “rooted” in the soil, to weird gnostic ideas about the secret origin of the Aryan race in the North Pole.
In the New York Post, Kyle Smith discusses the comedians of the 1970s and their modern day successors:
As Chevy Chase might have put it on Saturday Night Live, Harold Ramis is still dead. And with him has gone the finest era of comedy: The ’70s kind.
Ramis was as close to the king of comedy as it gets, as a writer, director and occasional sidekick for Animal House, Meatballs, Caddyshack, Stripes, Ghostbusters, Back to School, National Lampoon’s Vacation and Groundhog Day.
Taking off with the movie M*A*S*H in 1970 — a huge hit that grossed $450 million in today’s dollars — and its spinoff sitcom, ’70s comedy ruled from an anti-throne of contempt for authority in all shapes. College deans, student body presidents, Army sergeants and officers, country-club swells, snooty professors and the EPA: Anyone who made it his life’s work to lord it over others got taken down with wit.
When the smoke bombs cleared and the anarchy died, comedy turned inward and became domesticated. It also became smaller.
The Cosby Show and Jerry Seinfeld didn’t seek to ridicule those in power. Instead they gave us comfy couch comedy — riffs on family and etiquette and people’s odd little habits.
Now, in the Judd Apatow era, comedy is increasingly marked by two worrying trends: One is a knee-jerk belief, held even by many of the most brilliant comedy writers, that coming up with the biggest, most outlandish gross-out gags is their highest calling.
H/T to Kathy Shaidle for the link.
March 3, 2014
At The Register, Lester Haines fights the killjoys in public health journalism to bring forth the revolutionary booze-and-bacon diet:
“Bacon is particularly problematic,” doomwatched the Daily Mail, a noted proponent of the “if it’s tasty it’ll kill you” school of scientific killjoyery.
It gets worse. Scientists have indicated that bacon also reduces fertility, while a daily consumption of of more than 20g of processed meat in general — “equivalent to one meagre rasher of bacon” — is a surefire shortcut to the hereafter.
Or so they’d have you believe. Among the amazing powers of bacon is its ability to cure hangovers. The negative effects of excessive alcohol consumption are well known — impotence, cirrhosis of the liver, maudlin pub musings, alcopop-fuelled teen pregnancies, the Saturday-night reduction of British city centres to vomit-spattered warzones, and so forth — but booze too has extraordinary properties.
In fact, it benefits cardiovascular health, fights asthma, provides immunity to Mike Tyson and, critically, wards off dementia and makes you clever.
So, here’s the thing: if bacon can be used to combat the negatives effects of alcohol, while alcohol can prevent you from losing your marbles as a result using bacon to counter the downside of alcohol (something we have dubbed the “Baco-Booze Harmonious Feedback Loop”), then you are in a position to exploit the increased intelligence alcohol confers.
We have a triad of distinctively Canadian sports: Canadian football, hockey and curling. Football, from its origins to the present, has remained a collegiate game, a game of the ruling class. College kids invented gridiron football; McGill undergrads taught Americans what a “touchdown” was. Today, football is, notoriously, the shortest path to becoming a partner in a law firm, with golf a close second. Peter Lougheed and Rob Ford were football players, rich kids who, in different ways, leveraged the social connectivity of the game.
Hockey is the most popular sport in the triad because it is the game of the Canadian middle class, a game that requires a family to have something of a surplus and, ideally, to live near a town of some size. The typical sponsor for a minor hockey team has always been some kind of small business — a plumber, a restaurant, a trucking company. There are still plenty of kids in families too broke to afford hockey. In Canada, it is the first way one might learn that one is poor.
This is where curling fits in: It is a farmer’s game, a peasant tradition. There are still many villages in the West that cannot afford hockey rinks, but that faithfully lay down two curling sheets in a long, narrow shack every fall. In those towns, an agriculture society’s community investment in two sets of stones will serve all for decades. Where hockey requires every child to have skates and pads and sticks, the traditional equipment for curling amounts to two ordinary household brooms for every four players.
Colby Cosh, “Curling will never be ruined”, Maclean’s, 2014-03-02
Gather round you kids, ’cause Uncle Eric is going to tell you about the dim, distant days of hacking before open source:
I was a historian before I was an activist, and I’ve been reminded recently that a lot of younger hackers have a simplified and somewhat mythologized view of how our culture evolved, one which tends to back-project today’s conditions onto the past.
In particular, many of us never knew – or are in the process of forgetting – how dependent we used to be on proprietary software. I think by failing to remember that past we are risking that we will misunderstand the present and mispredict the future, so I’m going to do what I can to set the record straight.
Without the Unix-spawned framework of concepts and technologies, having source code simply didn’t help very much. This is hard for younger hackers to realize, because they have no experience of the software world before retargetable compilers and code portability became relatively common. It’s hard for a lot of older hackers to remember because we mostly cut our teeth on Unix environments that were a few crucial years ahead of the curve.
But we shouldn’t forget. One very good reason is that believing a myth of the fall obscures the remarkable rise that we actually accomplished, bootstrapping ourselves up through a series of technological and social inventions to where open source on everyone’s desk and in everyone’s phone and ubiquitous in the Internet infrastructure is now taken for granted.
We didn’t get here because we failed in our duty to protect a prelapsarian software commons, but because we succeeded in creating one. That is worth remembering.
Update: In a follow-up post, ESR talks about closed source “sharecroppers” and Unix “nomads”.
Like the communities around SHARE (IBM mainframe users) and DECUS (DEC minicomputers) in the 1960s and 1970s, whatever community existed around ESPOL was radically limited by its utter dependence on the permissions and APIs that a single vendor was willing to provide. The ESPOL compiler was not retargetable. Whatever community developed around it could neither develop any autonomy nor survive the death of its hardware platform; the contributors had no place to retreat to in the event of predictable single-point failures.
I’ll call this sort of community “sharecroppers”. That term is a reference to SHARE, the oldest such user group. It also roughly expresses the relationship between these user groups and contributors, on the one hand, and the vendor on the other. The implied power relationship was pretty totally asymmetrical.
Contrast this with early Unix development. The key difference is that Unix-hosted code could survive the death of not just original hardware platforms but entire product lines and vendors, and contributors could develop a portable skillset and toolkits. The enabling technology – retargetable C compilers – made them not sharecroppers but nomads, able to evade vendor control by leaving for platforms that were less locked down and taking their tools with them.
I understand that it’s sentimentally appealing to retrospectively sweep all the early sharecropper communities into “open source”. But I think it’s a mistake, because it blurs the importance of retargetability, the ability to resist or evade vendor lock-in, and portable tools that you can take away with you.
Without those things you cannot have anything like the individual mental habits or collective scale of contributions that I think is required before saying “an open-source culture” is really meaningful.
Published on 19 Feb 2011
The Phillips Brothers all Steam Powered Box Factory, founded in 1897, is family owned and operated and listed in the National Register of Historic places. This mill is believed to be the last fully operational all steam powered mill in America.
H/T to Roger Henry for the link.
At least, that’s the take of Paul Wells:
It is indeed tempting to see the Manning Networking Conference, an annual mostly conservative group hug whose 2014 edition wrapped up yesterday, as the expression of some fringe opposition to Harperism. Preston Manning himself is too gentle to make such a case himself, but clearly he wants to open up a little room for debate on the right end of Canadian politics.
The theme of this year’s meeting was “Next Steps,” and at times it felt like a beauty contest for potential post-Harper Conservative Party leadership candidates. Jim Prentice was here, and Brad Wall, and Jason Kenney and James Moore speaking simultaneously in different rooms. And there were tantalizing bursts of heterodoxy. Mike Chong showed up to peddle his Reform Act, but Jay Hill, pressed into service to rebut him on behalf of Conservative party orthodoxy as a former chief whip, expressed his own wish that the level of partisanship in the Commons could be reduced through more modest rule changes. Prentice asked Conservatives to be nice to environmentalists and First Nations organizations. Manning was skeptical about Pierre Poilievre’s Fair Elections Act. A pollster said the Trudeau pot ads aren’t working. Brad Wall suggested there’s room for more big thinking in Ottawa, and told me he wishes Stephen Harper would get back to China sooner rather than later. Even staunch loyalists felt free to sing the Conservative song their own way instead of the PMO’s. James Moore argued his is “the party of nation-building;” decried most provinces’ willingness to let Canadian history remain an optional subject in high school; and talked up a program called Ready, Willing and Able that helps working-age Canadians with developmental disabilities find good work.
But you didn’t have to scratch the veneer of anti-Harperism, or even cheerful non-Harperism, hard at all before it came peeling right off. I couldn’t find anyone, even from the more centrist reaches of the party, even speaking on guarantees of anonymity, who felt Harper should be put out to pasture promptly so one of this weekend’s guest speakers could replace him. Wall told me he doesn’t want the job and couldn’t fulfill one of its main requirements — speaking serviceable French — even if he was interested. While Prentice spoke, people came streaming out of the conference hall cradling their heads and remarking on how, well, boring he was. And representatives of down-the-line Harperite orthodoxy, like Pierre Poilievre, showed up with a smile, shook a lot of hands and listened to the discussions, and left without (as far as I could discern) taking down names for later extermination at the hands of the 25-year-olds in short pants. (Fun fact: the average age of PMO staffers today is about what it’s been at every point in my 20 years in Ottawa, and none of them wears short pants to work.)
March 2, 2014
Extreme wealth, whether honestly or dishonestly acquired, seems these days to bring forth little new except in the form and genre of vulgarity. Mr. Ambani’s skyscraper tower home in Bombay is a case in point: His aesthetic is that of the first-class executive lounge of an airport. Mr. Ambramovich’s ideal is that of a floating Dubai the size of an aircraft carrier. Only once have I been invited to a Russian oligarch’s home, and it struck me as a hybrid of luxurious modernist brothel and up-to-date operating theater. I saw some pictures recently of some huge Chinese state enterprise’s headquarters, and it appalled me how this nation, with one of the most exquisite, and certainly the oldest, aesthetic traditions on Earth, has gone over entirely to Las Vegas rococo (without the hint of irony or playfulness).
But it was the luxury and not the taste of Yanukovych’s homes that outraged the Ukrainians, for if by any chance they had come into money they would have done exactly the same, aesthetically speaking. Yanukovych may have been a dictator of sorts, but when it came to taste he was a man of the people. A horrified Ukrainian citizen, touring one of his homes after his downfall, was heard to exclaim, “All this beauty at our expense!”
As to politics, the Ukrainian crisis has once again revealed the European Union’s complete impotence. Physiognomy is an inexact science, but it is not so inexact that you cannot read the bemused feebleness on the faces of people such as Van Rompuy, Hollande, and Cameron, the latter so moistly smooth and characterless that it looks as though it would disappear leaving a trail of slime if caught in the rain. Mrs. Merkel has a somewhat stronger face, but then she has the advantage of having spent time in the Free German Youth (the East German communist youth movement), which must at least have put a modicum of iron in her soul.
Be that as it may, Russia holds all the trump cards in this situation. It can turn off Western Europe’s central heating at a stroke, and for Europeans such heating is the whole meaning and purpose of life—together with six-week annual holidays in Bali or Benidorm. Therefore Europe will risk nothing for the sake of Ukraine, except perhaps a few billion in loans of no one’s money, a trifle in current economic circumstances. If Bismarck were to return today, he would say that the whole of Ukraine was not worth the cold of one unheated radiator.