Normally, [the voters] are suckered. The political class — the class of politicians, senior bureaucrats, self-interested lobbyists, and all their paid flunkeys in media and elsewhere — are much cleverer than “the people,” on political questions. “The people,” for their part, may be individually cleverer than they, but not, as a rule, on political questions, which don’t much interest the great majority of them. The political class have, in addition to whatever native smarts, plenty of experience manipulating “the people,” and the contempt required to be ruthless about it. In a fully-fledged “democracy,” it takes little sophistry for the bad guys to win. But the term is relative, and should the good guys win, it will be another victory for the politicians.
A few days ago, I found myself trying to explain this to a well-intended, rightwing person. He complained that the Conservative Party had turned its back on “conservative principles.” This struck me as an unfair allegation, for the party had never once in the history of Canada, whether at the provincial or Dominion level, embraced “conservative principles,” nor shown the slightest curiosity over what they might be. The purpose of a political party has nought to do with such “principles.” (This goes for all parties including, within five years of their founding, those founded on “principles.”) Rather it is to tax as much as they dare, and distribute the takings among their friends, while “nation building” — i.e. adding to the machinery of State. A party unclear on this essential “principle” of democracy (the one that defeats every other principle) might get itself elected by some fluke, but will not long retain power.
David Warren, “Hapless Voters”, Essays in Idleness, 2014-05-26.
January 27, 2015
November 24, 2014
Harper is now the 6th longest serving PM in Canadian history having just surpassed Borden and Mulroney. The former fought a major war and the later revolutionized international trade policy. Harper? He abolished the Wheat Board. A sensible thing really. Not a big thing. This is not a government of big things, it is a government of small things. Harper is, as Lord Black has pointed out, a modern Tory version of Mackenzie King.
Now King did fight the Second World War. Sort of. He thought the whole thing rather a bother, getting in the way of his equivocating and crystal ball polishing. The general impression in Ottawa during the early Forties was that CD Howe was running the country. The only time in Canadian history when an engineer was given real power. I neither condemn or condone that fact, I simply point it out.
Harper would, of course, never delegate any important authority. Even the late Big Jim Flaherty was kept on a shorter leash than Paul Martin. A modern day CD Howe, assuming he could get elected, would never last five minutes in the Harper cabinet. Big Prime Ministers breed small cabinet ministers.
This leads to one of the essential problems of quasi-Presidential Prime Ministers. When the King falters so does the Kingdom. The Pearson government bungled along for five remarkably influential years. Mike had little idea of what was going on but with one of the strongest cabinets in Canadian history the business of government carried on.
If the PM doesn’t have any new ideas there are plenty of competent ministers more than willing to fill the gap. This is how men like Macdonald and King survived for political eons. How great Dynasties like those of the Tories in Ontario and Alberta were forged. If the King falters there is no shortage of Princes to carry the load.
Richard Anderson, “Steam Punk”, Gods of the Copybook Headings, 2014-11-18.
November 14, 2014
The House of Lords is the upper chamber of Britain’s parliament. Canada’s (mostly useless) Senate is our equivalent legislative body, in that the members are not there through any kind of popular vote, and the general public view them — if they have any opinion about them at all — as an odd historical holdover that doesn’t really matter in today’s world. Recently, the Wall Street Journal talked about the House of Lords, and Tim Worstall wants to correct their misunderstandings about that august body:
The change to appointing Life Peers rather than hereditaries really came back in 1958, when it first became possible to appoint someone only for life, rather than appointing someone and finding out that their sons (only first son to first son of course, not all sons) to the nth generation also got membership of the House when the time came. Since then there have been very few hereditary peerages granted and those that have been have been special cases. Ex-Prime Ministers, if they desire, become Earls, ex-Speakers of the Commons Viscounts and after that, well, just some very few special people (such a William Whitelaw who became a Viscount, and everyone was assured that he only had daughters so it would not be inherited).
That is, Blair didn’t so much change the usual method of appointment, for that carried on in much the same way it had for the previous few decades. What he did do was remove the extant hereditaries (except for 92 of them, which is a whole other story). He also created a number of peerages in order to try and balance the party memberships in the Lords. But not excessively so perhaps. There’s a nice listing here of the numbers created under each PM and how many per year. Blair’s numbers are well above the historical average, yes, but rather below Cameron’s numbers per year (Cameron, of course, is trying to reverse the balance in favour of Labour that Blair engineered).
In other words it wasn’t so much “replacement” as the exclusion of the hereditaries leading to a much smaller House.
He also addresses the voiced concern that so many peers have (shock, horror!) business ties that might influence their voting:
Yes, many do indeed have contacts with firms in the economy. Quite possibly too many with not the right kind of firm. But then look back up to that first quote from the article. The Life Peers are drawn from, among other places, the captains of industry (and yes, senior trade union leaders get an equal look in, as do left leaning academics, Lord Glasman comes to mind there, as does my old professor, Lord Layard). If you appoint people from industry to the second house of the legislature then you’re going to have people with links to, and quite possibly paycheques from, industry in that second house of the legislature. George Simpson become Lord Simpson (one of them, there are several I think with that name, the distinction becoming “Simpson of Where”) while he was still ruining GEC. So, obviously, there was the Chairman of a defence related company sitting in the House of Lords. But he was appointed because he was head of GEC.
Similarly, one of the particular peers I did some work for had been instrumental in the creation and running of a very successful financial services firm. It was in part what he was made a Lord for. And while I’ve no idea what his financial relationship with his old firm is or was it wouldn’t surprise me if he was still drawing a paycheque or a pension from it.
November 2, 2014
We came in sight of Reading about eleven. The river is dirty and dismal here. One does not linger in the neighbourhood of Reading. The town itself is a famous old place, dating from the dim days of King Ethelred, when the Danes anchored their warships in the Kennet, and started from Reading to ravage all the land of Wessex; and here Ethelred and his brother Alfred fought and defeated them, Ethelred doing the praying and Alfred the fighting.
In later years, Reading seems to have been regarded as a handy place to run down to, when matters were becoming unpleasant in London. Parliament generally rushed off to Reading whenever there was a plague on at Westminster; and, in 1625, the Law followed suit, and all the courts were held at Reading. It must have been worth while having a mere ordinary plague now and then in London to get rid of both the lawyers and the Parliament.
Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men in a Boat (to say nothing of the dog), 1889.
October 28, 2014
It is interesting to observe — in oneself — the power of media to implant false impressions on a lazy mind. I noticed this from listening to a television speech by Stephen Harper, after the terrorist event in Ottawa, yesterday. (Harper has now been Canada’s prime minister for almost nine years.) He was described as “shaken” by several of the websites I had consulted for news, and in quickly reviewing the tape of his short talk, I formed that impression myself. It was only when an American correspondent, who had perhaps missed this Canadian media prep, told me Harper did not look shaken to him, that I went back and watched the video again, this time paying close attention to his delivery in both English and French. I realized he was not shaken at all; that his pauses and swallows were characteristic, and would not have been noticed by anyone had he been speaking on any other subject.
What impressed me, was how easily I fell for the “media narrative” on Harper’s speech, simply by paying insufficient attention. At the back of my mind I was assuming there must be some truth in it, when I ought to be aware that the media specialize in analyses which contain no truth at all. When I am paying attention, with the benefit of my own long experience within the media, I am able to identify the game, and understand what the players are up to.
David Warren, “Ottawa in the news”, Essays in Idleness, 2014-10-23.
October 10, 2014
In Maclean’s, Colby Cosh laments the fact that once again we can’t call something by its obvious name, thanks to criminal misuse of the correct description in previous, ah, “kinetic actions”:
It seems to me the PM would have an easier time pitching the fight against Islamic State if he could call it what it really is: a police action. Politicians abused that term as a legalistic euphemism in the previous century, and now it cannot credibly be used to describe a military intervention. War is war is war. And war really does have a tendency to behave that way — to turn nations into that little old lady who unexpectedly finds herself having to scarf down an entire horse.
But a little policing by the world hegemon and its allies is recognizably just what is needed here. Islamic State calls itself a “state,” but it is really a gang attempting to become a state, a gang that has developed vast, nihilist ambitions.
Thomas Mulcair babbled in the House of Commons about how Islamic State is really just the same buncha jerks that Americans and their Iraqi client government have been jostling with for a decade. He is right, in the narrow sense that some of the people are the same. But he appears not to have noticed that these particular jerks have captured an astonishing amount of advanced military hardware, obtained a monopoly of force within thousands of square miles of territory, and recruited dozens of Canadians and hundreds of Westerners, some of them not even Muslim.
They have accomplished most of this by means of sheer bravado and imagemaking, and it is easy to imagine the regret this moment might inspire later, if it is missed. The Canadian opposition’s argument is that if we cannot in some sense subject Islamic State to total defeat or annihilation, we should not be putting lives at risk at all — even if the lives are few and the risk quite small. There is an unfortunate pro-war/anti-war binariness to all this, particularly since Canada is not proposing to go to war against another state, but is assisting allies in suppressing glorified banditry. Activity like this has become hard for us to comprehend, even though it is the stuff of our own imperialist history.
If you polled Canadians under 25, you’d probably discover that many of them honestly believe Canada has never been a warmaking country, and that blue-helmet-wearing Canadian soldiers were only in Europe in 1914-18 and 1939-45 as peacekeepers (if they even know Canada was involved in the two world wars).
October 5, 2014
In the Toronto Star, Bruce Campion-Smith and Les Whittington report on the debate in the Commons over sending RCAF aircraft to join the coalition against ISIS:
Canadian fighter pilots will be in combat for the second time in three years after Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced CF-18 jets are being dispatched to the region to battle Islamic State militants.
Political lines were quickly drawn over the planned six-month mission, with the New Democrats and Liberals telling the Commons in a dramatic standoff Friday that they would oppose the military operation when MPs debate and vote on it Monday.
But the government’s motion to deploy the Royal Canadian Air Force as part of the United States-led coalition confronting Islamic State fighters is expected to be approved by the Conservative majority in Parliament.
Speaking to a hushed Commons, Harper laid out the case for war against Islamic State — or Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), an Al Qaeda splinter group — for “unspeakable atrocities” and which has threatened Canada.
“Let me be clear on the objectives of this intervention. We intend to significantly degrade the capabilities of ISIL,” Harper said.
Up to six CF-18 fighter jets will be deployed to the region to join in coalition airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Iraq and possibly Syria. As well, Canada will contribute one CC-150 Polaris air-to-air refuelling aircraft and two CP-140 Aurora surveillance aircraft. In all, 320 aircrew and other personnel will take part in the mission.
The opposition NDP and Liberal leaders quickly spoke against the action.
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair said the Conservatives have not given Canadians adequate information on how this war would be conducted.
“Will Canada be stuck a decade from now mired in a war we wisely avoided entering a decade ago?” he asked in the Commons.
“The tragedy in Iraq and Syria will not end with another western-led invasion in that region. . . . Canada, for our part, should not rush into this war.”
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said his party — which had backed military action in Afghanistan and Libya — would not support the motion endorsing combat.
Trudeau was dismissive of Canada’s contribution, saying the country could do more than sending what he branded “aging warplanes.”
“Whether they are strategic airlifts, training or medical support, we have the capabilities to meaningfully assist in a non-combat role in a well defined international mission,” Trudeau said.
Update: Lieutenant General Yvan Blondin responds indirectly to Trudeau’s dismissive description of the CF-18 (republished at the Ottawa Citizen).
As the Commander of the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) and CF-18 pilot, I wish to dispel any questions pertaining to the relevance of the CF-18. I am completely confident in the ability of the aircraft and personnel to extend Canadian air power anywhere in the world, such as in support of the current air operations underway in Iraq.
The aircraft we fly today have been continuously upgraded throughout their lifespan, ensuring that our crews can fly into harm’s way with the confidence that they have the equipment they need to complete missions safely. Our RCAF personnel and aircraft have proven that they can fight alongside our Allies — they are battle hardened, and the capabilities of our CF-18s today certainly enable them to effectively serve alongside the fighter aircraft being flown by Allies in the fight against ISIL.
August 12, 2014
A few [Conservative workers and contributors] are growing frustrated with the categorical abortion truce [Stephen Harper] has imposed on his caucus, and see hope in Jason Kenney, whose activity in recruiting ethnic minorities to the party is attracting increasing attention. Kenney might already be the most influential Canadian politician of the past 20 years, not excluding Harper. Canadian Taxpayers Federation jobs are still seen as attractive largely because Kenney, by some miracle, actually managed to influence policy in Alberta when he had one. His tending of minorities seems superhuman. I am convinced I could start a fake religion tomorrow and within six months Kenney would be sending us excruciatingly correct salutations on precisely the right made-up feast days. “The Conservative party wishes His Excellency the Pooh-Bah a happy and abundant Saskatoon-Picking Day.”
But there are many problems with the sudden agreement on an imminent Kenney succession, starting with the fact that accumulating authority with small ethnic and religious groups is … well, his job. Perhaps it gives him potential leverage in a leadership race, but it is indistinguishable from merely having done excellent work on behalf of Stephen Harper.
Colby Cosh, “Stephen Harper has no reason to quit while he’s ahead”, Maclean’s, 2014-01-10
July 29, 2014
Nowhere were the frictions generated by nationalist politics more in evidence than in the Cisleithanian [the non-Hungarian half of Austria-Hungary] parliament, which met from 1883 in a handsome neo-classical building on Vienna’s Ringstrasse. In this 516-seat legislature, the largest in Europe, the familiar spectrum of political ideological diversity was cross-cut by national affiliations producing a panoply of splinter groups and grouplets. Among the thirty-odd parties that held mandates after the 1907 elections, for example, were twenty-eight Czech Agrarians, eighteen Young Czechs (Radical nationalists), seventeen Czech Conservatives, seven Old Czechs (moderate nationalists), two Czech-Progressives (Realist tendency), one ‘wild’ (independent) Czech and nine Czech National Socialists. The Poles, the Germans, the Italians and even the Slovenes and the Ruthenes were similarly divided along ideological lines.
Since there was no official language in Cisleithania (by contrast with the Kingdom of Hungary), there was no single official language of parliamentary procedure. German,Czech, Polish, Ruthenian, Croat, Serbian, Slovenian, Italian, Romanian and Russian were all permitted. But no interpreters were provided, and there was no facility for recording or monitoring the content of the speeches that were not in German, unless the deputy in question himself chose to supply the house with a translated text of his speech. Deputies from even the most insignificant factions could thus block unwelcome initiatives by delivering long speeches in a language that only a handful of their colleagues understood. Whether they were actually addressing the issues raised by the current motion, or simply reciting long poems in their own national idiom, was difficult to ascertain. The Czechs in particular were renowned for the baroque extravagance of their filibustering. The Cisleithanian parliament became a celebrated tourist attraction, especially in winter, when Viennese pleasure-seekers crowded into the heated visitors’ galleries. By contrast with the city’s theatres and opera houses, a Berlin journalist wrily observed, entry to parliamentary sessions was free.*
* Among those who came to watch the antics of the deputies was the young drifter Adolf Hitler. Between February 1908 and the summer of 1909, when Czech obstructionism was at its height, he was often to be found in the visitors’ gallery. He would later claim that the experience had ‘cured’ him of his youthful admiration for the parliamentary system.
Christopher Clark, The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went To War In 1914, 2012.
July 15, 2014
It is a painful thing to confront someone whom one is accustomed to respecting, and to tell that person they are barking mad. Usually one avoids it, or dismisses the other’s strange behavior as “a difference of opinion,” and speaks platitudes about “the importance of diversity,” however when a person is going, “Arf! Arf!” right in your face, there is no way around it. This includes governments, when they become barking mad.
Thomas Jefferson knew this, when he quilled the Declaration of Independence, listing King George’s barking mad behaviors, however there has been a recent, revisionist effort to show that King George the Third wasn’t all that bad, and his blue urine wasn’t due to porphuria, and his spells of foaming at the mouth were but minor episodes, especially when he was young and was busily losing the American colonies. (I think this may in part be due to the fact that porphuria is hereditary, and certain people don’t want the rabble giving Prince Charles appraising looks.)
The argument states that, if you could get an audience at his glittering palace, King George was quite lucid, and even charming, and that the points he raised, about the government’s right to tax, are valid to this day. There is even some reproach towards America and Jefferson for failing to understand King George’s points.
However taxation was not the issue. Taxation without representation was the issue. When one looks back with twenty-twenty hindsight, the solution to the problem seems simple: Simply give the thirteen colony’s thirteen elected representatives in Parliament. It seems like such an obvious thing, to give Englishmen abroad the same rights as Englishmen at home, and seems so conducive to unity and the expansion of an unified kingdom, that to switch the subject to the-right-of-the-government-to-tax seems a sleight of hand bound to stub thumbs, to lead to schism, and to create discord out of harmony. It was, in fact, a barking mad thing for King George to do.
Caleb Shaw, “Barking Mad – A rave, prompted by facing insane heating costs”, Watts Up With That?, 2014-07-14.
July 4, 2014
Published on 3 Jul 2014
“America is dropping like a stone in rankings of freedom. As power accumulates in one person, expect that to continue,” says Frank Buckley, George Mason University law professor and author of the new book, The Once and Future King: The Rise of Crown Government in America.
Buckley sat down with Reason TV‘s Tracy Oppenheimer to discuss how the U.S. presidency has evolved into what he calls “something like an elective monarch.” He says that this is not what the framers of the Constitution had intended, nor did they conceive of the modern version of the separation of powers.
“A parliamentary regime was more or less what the framers wanted…as far as the separation of powers is concerned,” says Buckley “instead of a device to constrain a president, it’s one which immunizes him from criticism by Congress.”
May 24, 2014
Published on 22 May 2014
One of the most talked about technology tradeoffs today is the question of how much privacy we give up to live in a world of convenience, speed and intelligence. We’re now less anonymous than many people are aware of or comfortable with, and headline-grabbing stories like the Heartbleed Bug don’t provide much reassurance for those of us seeking comfort around data privacy. How can we balance our need for anonymity with the incredible benefits of our connected world? World class Internet privacy expert Dr. Michael Geist helps us understand which current surveillance and privacy issues should be on your mind.
Dr. Michael Geist is a law professor at the University of Ottawa where he holds the Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law. He has obtained a Bachelor of Laws (LL.B.) degree from Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto, Master of Laws (LL.M.) degrees from Cambridge University in the UK and Columbia Law School in New York, and a Doctorate in Law (J.S.D.) from Columbia Law School. Dr. Geist is an internationally syndicated columnist on technology law issues with his regular column appearing in the Toronto Star and the Ottawa Citizen. Dr. Geist is the editor of From “Radical Extremism” to “Balanced Copyright”: Canadian Copyright and the Digital Agenda (2010) and In the Public Interest: The Future of Canadian Copyright Law (2005), both published by Irwin Law, the editor of several monthly technology law publications, and the author of a popular blog on Internet and intellectual property law issues.
Dr. Geist serves on many boards, including the CANARIE Board of Directors, the Canadian Legal Information Institute Board of Directors, the Privacy Commissioner of Canada’s Expert Advisory Board, the Electronic Frontier Foundation Advisory Board, and on the Information Program Sub-Board of the Open Society Institute. He has received numerous awards for his work including the Kroeger Award for Policy Leadership and the Public Knowledge IP3 Award in 2010, the Les Fowlie Award for Intellectual Freedom from the Ontario Library Association in 2009, the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Pioneer Award in 2008, Canarie’s IWAY Public Leadership Award for his contribution to the development of the Internet in Canada and he was named one of Canada’s Top 40 Under 40 in 2003. In 2010, Managing Intellectual Property named him on the 50 most influential people on intellectual property in the world.
May 1, 2014
It hasn’t been a banner year so far for Prime Minister Stephen Harper. David Akin notes that it’s Harper’s birthday today and that he’s now our 9th longest-serving PM:
Today is Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s 55th birthday. It is also is his 3,005th day in office. (The Library of Parliament counts his first day as Feb. 6, 2006, the day he and his first cabinet were sworn in.)
At 3,005 days in office, the country’s 22nd prime minister is its 9th longest-serving prime minister.
Here’s the top 14 as of today:
- William Lyon Mackenzie King: 7,824 days in office
- John A. Macdonald: 6,934 days
- Pierre Elliott Trudeau: 5,620 days
- Wilfrid Laurier: 5,565 days
- Jean Chrétien: 3,689 days
- Brian Mulroney: 3,202 days
- Robert Borden: 3,195 days
- Louis St. Laurent: 3,139 days
- Stephen Harper: 3,005 days
- John Diefenbaker: 2,130 days
- R.B. Bennett: 1,902 days
- Lester Pearson: 1,824 days
- Alexander Mackenzie: 1,796 days
- Paul Martin: 786 days
April 28, 2014
We are all familiar with the basic difference between English and French parliamentary institutions; copied respectively by such other assemblies as derive from each. We all realize that this main difference has nothing to do with national temperament, but stems from their seating plans. The British, being brought up on team games, enter their House of Commons in the spirit of those who would rather be doing something else. If they cannot be playing golf or tennis, they can at least pretend that politics is a game with very similar rules. But for this device, Parliament would arouse even less interest than it does. So the British instinct is to form two opposing teams, with referee and linesmen, and let them debate until they exhaust themselves. The House of Commons is so arranged that the individual Member is practically compelled to take one side or the other before he knows what the arguments are, or even (in some cases) before he knows the subject of the dispute. His training from birth has been to play for his side, and this saves him from any undue mental effort. Sliding into a seat toward the end of a speech, he knows exactly how to take up the argument from the point it has reached. If the speaker is on his own side of the House, he will say “Hear, hear!” If he is on the opposite side, he can safely say “Shame!” or merely “Oh!” At some later stage he may have time to ask his neighbor what the debate is supposed to be about. Strictly speaking, however, there is no need for him to do this. He knows enough in any case not to kick into his own goal. The men who sit opposite are entirely wrong and all their arguments are so much drivel. The men on his own side are statesmanlike, by contrast, and their speeches a singular blend of wisdom, eloquence, and moderation. Nor does it make the slightest difference whether he learned his politics at Harrow or in following the fortunes of Aston Villa. In either school he will have learned when to cheer and when to groan. But the British system depends entirely on its seating plan. If the benches did not face each other, no one could tell truth from falsehood — wisdom from folly — unless indeed by listening to it all. But to listen to it all would be ridiculous, for half the speeches must of necessity be nonsense.
In France the initial mistake was made of seating the representatives in a semicircle, all facing the chair. The resulting confusion could be imagined if it were not notorious. No real opposing teams could be formed and no one could tell (without listening) which argument was the more cogent. There was the further handicap of all the proceedings being in French — an example the United States wisely refused to follow. But the French system is bad enough even when the linguistic difficulty does not arise. Instead of having two sides, one in the right and the other in the wrong — so that the issue is clear from the outset — the French form a multitude of teams facing in all directions. With the field in such confusion, the game cannot even begin. Basically their representatives are of the Right or of the Left, according to where they sit. This is a perfectly sound scheme. The French have not gone to the extreme of seating people in alphabetical order. But the semicircular chamber allows of subtle distinctions between the various degrees of tightness and leftness. There is none of the clear-cut British distinction between rightness and wrongness. One deputy is described, politically, as to the left of Monsieur Untel but well to the right of Monsieur Quelquechose. What is anyone to make of that? What should we make of it even in English? What do they make of it themselves? The answer is, “Nothing.”
C. Northcote Parkinson, “The Will of the People, or Annual General Meeting”, Parkinson’s Law (and other studies in administration), 1957.
April 21, 2014
– Spotted yesterday in the Times (which is behind a paywall) of the day before yesterday by 6k. “Very good” says he. Indeed.
Brian Micklethwait, “Samizdata quote of the day”, Samizdata, 2014-04-19.