September 20, 2015

“What kind of Buddhism is this, Otto?”

Filed under: Religion — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Kathy Shaidle explains why using a movie’s worldview (even something as funny as A Fish Called Wanda) is not the best way to develop your own philosophy of the world:

From William James and Herman Hesse to the Beats and the Beastie Boys, Buddhism has long appealed to a certain type of post-Enlightenment Westerner — the one who yearns to fill his “God-shaped hole” with anything but God, that uptight, bossy old guy with all the boring rules and hang-ups (man.)

Buddhism — which looks from the outside like agnosticism but with cooler tchotchkes — is the obvious choice.

Now, Americans in particular take a lot of guff (see: “I forgot my mantra…”) for seeming to prefer trompe l’oeil religion — what Flannery O’Connor had her Hazel Motes concoct: a “Holy Church of Christ Without Christ.” That’s probably not surprising considering you’re a country cofounded by deists.

But while it’s funny to witness lily-white lapsed Catholics, still supposedly stinging from Sister’s ruler, sitting in Zen meditation classes where they’re sure to be slapped with an even bigger stick, let’s remember that Buddhism was an Eastern religion first. It’s like Pearl Harbor: They started it.

And “they” aren’t all the unadulterated egalitarian Klaatus of our Big Sur wind-chime fantasies. Buddhist scandals — both sexual and fiduciary — receive only a slender sliver of the media attention and resulting popular scorn that, say, Catholic ones do. (Oddly enough!) Stand-up comics don’t crack jokes about perverted Theravada monks.

Yet lists of Buddhist big-shot malfeasance include such karma-killers as spreading AIDS and drinking oneself to death. And that’s just in America.

Over in Thailand, the “top Buddhist authority bars women from becoming monks,” but some are now insisting (stop me if you’ve heard this one) that female ordination is just the enema the nation’s corrupt and constipated religious authority needs most.

August 19, 2015

The Duffy Affair – try explaining it in just one sentence

Filed under: Cancon, Government, Media — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Colby Cosh on the Senate scandal that is convulsing the Parliamentary Press Gallery from coast-to-coast (actually, it’s more like from Gatineau to Nepean):

I wish I’d captured the exact quote from Twitter, but a paraphrase will have to do: someone said recently, “If you want to feel better about Canada, try explaining the Duffy-Wright scandal to someone from another country in one sentence.” I cannot help feeling that there is something to this. Our media have blitzed a courtroom and consumed great newspaper acreage over a very technical and complicated topic. There is no glamour in the affair, by world standards — phrases like “paid for hookers,” “hired a death squad” or “donations from the Klan” are absent.

Dubious billing procedures by politicians make for good stories. They helped bring down an Alberta government not long ago. But that news story involved using public resources for partisan purposes. In the case of Nigel Wright — as distinguished from the issue of Mike Duffy being a scurrilous, greedy trimmer, a truth we did not need a trial to tell us — the fundamental problem is what the Conservative party and Wright did to defray the questionable expenses imposed upon the treasury.

A scandal and a shame it may be, but in an upside-down way. Mike Duffy’s expense claims have not yet been found to be legally or procedurally wrong. Duffy was unwilling to pay them back. Nigel Wright tried to pre-empt the issue by making use of his personal fortune. It’s a “scandalous” donation of private dollars to the public treasury.

If I ask what is actually scandalous about this, I am guaranteed to receive several different answers. The Conservatives are charged with having considered paying Duffy’s expenses out of party funds, which, I am told, are “public” in nature because they are supported by a tax subsidy. The Conservatives did, of course, contemplate using party funds … but didn’t. And those funds, though subsidized, exist precisely to be applied ad libitum for partisan convenience.

Another theory is that Wright’s payment was, by its inherent nature, a “bribe.” The Conservatives, covering up bribery! — non-lawyers are fond of that one. Whether Duffy was guilty of accepting a bribe is, of course, one of the issues in the trial. It is even less clear that Wright is guilty of having offered a bribe: in law, a bribe does not take two to tango. Under the Criminal Code, giving a bribe means giving money to a legislator in order to get them to do something, or not do something, “in their official capacity.” There are plenty of speculative theories about what Wright had to gain from paying Duffy’s expenses: none, as far as I can see, involve Duffy’s official conduct.

February 28, 2015

Lady Hamilton

Filed under: Britain, History — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Maggie McNeill recounts the life of Horatio Nelson’s beloved Emma, Lady Hamilton:

Emma Hart as Circe by George Romney 1782Unfortunately, Greville spent far beyond his means, and by 1783 he needed a new source of funds; he decided to acquire them by marrying the young heiress Henrietta Middleton, but since it was common knowledge that Emma was his lover he had to be rid of her. He therefore convinced his uncle, Sir William Hamilton, to accept her as his mistress. Hamilton was an art collector, and no doubt viewed the now-famous beauty as a valuable find; he also wanted to facilitate his nephew’s marriage so as to eliminate his frequent requests for money. The deal was therefore made without Emma’s input or knowledge, and she was shipped off to Naples (where Hamilton was the British envoy) under the guise of a six-month holiday while Greville was supposedly away on business. She was, in other words, “sex trafficked”, sent from one owner to another in a different country.

But though Emma was furious upon discovering what was really expected of her, she eventually adapted to her situation. Hamilton’s home was beautiful and his art collection renowned, and he was a widower who, far from viewing her as an embarrassment, instead encouraged her modeling, singing and other performance. The form for which she became known was called “attitudes”; this consisted of an act in which she would wear a simple gown dressed up by scarves and shawls which helped her to evoke images from history and classical mythology by posing. The audience was then supposed to guess who she was portraying. Though this may sound a bit silly to modern ears, the effect was apparently very striking; Johann Wolfgang von Goethe wrote, “The performance is like nothing you have ever seen before. With a few scarves and shawls she expressed a variety of wonderful transformations. One pose after another without a break”. Within a few years of her first performance in the spring of 1787, a number of other actresses took up the art; over the years Emma herself evolved from mere posing into acting out short pantomimes, most famously portraying Medea.

Sir William eventually married Emma on September 6th, 1791; he was sixty and she twenty-six. The match gave her the title by which she was forever known afterward, though friends still called her “Emma”. It also gave her the duties of a diplomat’s wife, among them entertaining Horatio Nelson (then a mere post captain) when he came in 1793 to request reinforcements from the King of Naples. By the time he returned in 1798 he had lost an arm, an eye, most of his teeth and the majority of his health, but had won both the Battle of the Nile and worldwide fame. Sir William invited the great man to recuperate in their home, nursed by his young wife, and it was at this time that the two began their affair.

But while one might think this a betrayal of hospitality, the truth is that Sir William definitely knew about and seems to have even encouraged the affair; he and Nelson respected and admired one another, and Emma and Nelson had similar feelings for one another. Indeed, the relationship soon developed into a ménage a trois; after the Neopolitan Revolution of 1799 the ailing Hamilton was allowed to retire and return to England, accompanied by Nelson, who openly moved in with the Hamiltons despite having a home (and wife) of his own. In fact, the arrangement became such a huge scandal that the Admiralty ordered Nelson back to sea to keep him away from Emma. The public, however, was fascinated and the Hamiltons seemed completely unconcerned with what anyone said; when Emma gave birth to a daughter on January 31st, 1801 she named her “Horatia”, flagrantly advertising her paternity.

February 10, 2015

Edmund Curll, “printer, pirate, and pornographer”

Filed under: Britain, History, Law, Media — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Sherwood Smith and Rachel Manija Brown, guest-posting at Charlie’s Diary, discuss a thoroughly awful man of letters:

Like now, there were ripoff booksellers masquerading among the legitimate ones, though today’s scammers (see Writer Beware) are rarely as colorful as the rascally Edmund Curll — printer, pirate, and pornographer. He stole material with flagrant disregard for copyright. As soon as some prominent person died, he collected gossip — it didn’t matter if it was true — for a biography, and if he didn’t have enough material, he made it up. Prominent people reportedly dreaded dying because of what Curll would do to them. A faint echo of the Curll treatment occurred a couple weeks ago, when Colleen McCullough’s obit started off by noting how fat and unlovely she’d been.

Curll churned out so much X-rated stuff under various guises that the word ‘Curlicism’ became synonymous with porn. Prison, a stint in the stocks, even being blanket-tossed and beaten by the boys at Westminster school not only didn’t stop him from theft and libel, he turned them all into marketing opportunities. Even when he was convicted of libel and forced to publish an apology and a promise to stop printing, his repentant words touted his latest books.

He’s best known for the twenty-year running duel with the poet Alexander Pope, from whom he not only stole, he lampooned under his own name and with sockpuppets. It began when he first pirated Pope, prompting the poet and his publisher to meet Curll at the Swan, where they slipped a mega dose of “physic” (think ExLax) into his drink. He turned that, too, into a marketing event, once he’d recovered from the extremes of ejecta; when Pope published a couple of triumphant pamphlets, claiming Curll was dead, Curl came right back with new material demonstrating that he was very much alive and up to his usual racket.

Their history — and there are other equally crazy-ass stories — remind me of the whoops and hollers of internet feuds and FAILS now, among writers, editors, publishers (some individuals wearing all three hats).

Aside from the Curlls, most booksellers, the publishers of the eighteenth century — like the editors working at traditional publishers now — were hardworking people who made careful decisions about what to publish because they were the ones fronting the costs of printing and of copyright.

The booksellers of Grub Street were all about copyright. For most of the eighteenth century, they met yearly, over sumptuous dinners, to hold a copyright auction that was exclusive to the booksellers. Interlopers were unceremonious chucked out.

October 17, 2014

Germany’s arms procurement plight

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Europe, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 09:22

Peter Dörrie explains the German government’s current embarrassment due to the revelations about the desperate straits of all German military branches. The combination of delivery delays, cost overruns, technical faults, and low equipment availability mean that Germany could not come to the aid of NATO allies in a crisis:

The German armed forces have come clean. They’ve admitted they’re incapable of managing arms procurement — and have systematically neglected the hardware that’s already in service.

Military procurement and management in Germany have been under heightened scrutiny ever since Berlin’s attempt to buy an European version of America’s Global Hawk drone ended in miserable failure in mid-2013.

In late September, the German military sent an explosive report to parliament, confessing that half of the armed forces’ heavy equipment is unserviceable and can’t deploy in a crisis.

The German navy, for example, possesses 15 Sea King helicopters, but 12 of them are grounded. The situation is similar with respect to the naval Sea Lynx helicopter — just four out of 18 can fly — and the heavy-lifting CH-53 helicopter. Sixteen out of 43 CH-53s are functional.

The Luftwaffe can field only 80 Typhoon and Tornado fighters, out of 140 on the books. So short of equipment, at present Germany would be powerless to respond if a fellow NATO member were to ask for military assistance.

And the bad news doesn’t stop there. On Oct. 6, Defense Minister Ursula Von Der Leyen released a report by an outside consultancy analyzing the military’s nine biggest weapons purchases.

The report is damning. Every single procurement effort suffers some combination of cost overruns, delays and technical shortfalls. And owing to the ministry’s unwillingness or inability to negotiate proper contracts, the government has had to pay for the overruns itself. The arms manufacturers waltz away with their full fees.

This is sounding disturbingly similar to Canada’s military procurement problems.

September 29, 2014

QotD: Presidential elections and personal attacks

Filed under: History, Humour, Politics, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

In the hotly contested election of 1828, supporters of John Quincy Adams called Andrew Jackson a “slave-trading, gambling, brawling murderer.” Mac McClelland, Ten Most Awesome
Presidential Mudslinging Moves Ever, Mother Jones, (October 31, 2008).11
Jackson’s supporters responded by accusing Adams of having premarital sex with his wife and playing the role of a pimp in securing a prostitute for Czar Alexander I. Id.

During Thomas Jefferson’s presidency, James T. Callender, a pamphleteer and “scandalmonger,”
alleged that Jefferson had fathered numerous children with his slave Sally Hemings.12
Callender’s allegations would feature prominently in the election of 1804, but it wasn’t until
nearly two centuries later that the allegations were substantially confirmed.13

More recently, we’ve had discussions of draft-dodging, Swift Boats, and lying about birthplaces14 — not to mention the assorted infidelities that are a political staple.

11. Available at http://www.motherjones.com/mojo/2008/10/ten-most-awesome-presidential-mudslinging-moves-ever.
12. Monticello.org, James Callender, http://www.monticello.org/site/research-and-collections/james-callender.
13. Monticello.org, Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: A Brief Account, http://www.monticello.org/site/plantation-and-slavery/thomas-jefferson-and-sally-hemings-brief-account.
14. While President Obama isn’t from Kenya, he is a Keynesian — so you can see where the confusion arises.

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

September 28, 2014

Foreigners in the RCAF – nothing to see here, business as usual, move along

Filed under: Cancon, Media, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 11:21

Strategy Page looks at a recent mini-scandal when it was noted by Canadian media types that the Royal Canadian Air Force was — shock! horror! — actually recruiting foreign pilots:

Canada has a long history of allowing foreigners to join its armed forces. This happened on a large scale with Americans in the years before the United States entered World War I and World War II. But Australians and British recruits continue to be welcomed, as well as those from other parts of the old British Empire.

The big advantage of recruiting foreign pilots in the last five years was the need to obtain experienced personnel with lots of flying time in aircraft (like transports) Canada was operating all over the world. Canada has lost a lot of their experienced pilots for these aircraft to retirement or more attractive offers from commercial airlines. The incentive for British military pilots was keeping some of the high rank and credit for time already served in the British military. The British recruits will also be able to become Canadian citizens quickly, which is what many British citizens have been doing regularly since Canada became independent in 1867.

The RCAF also reminded the media that it has long used foreign pilots, often as instructors, on a “loan” program. The foreign country continued to pay the salary of their pilot but the RCAF picked up all other expenses while the foreign (often American) pilot was working in Canada. The loaner pilots are most frequently used when Canada is buying a new type of aircraft and needs pilots experienced with the new aircraft in order to speed the training of Canadian pilots.

September 11, 2014

Roger Goodell’s dilemma

Filed under: Football, Law, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 09:52

USA Today‘s Tom Pelissero updates the state of play in the Ray-Rice-is-a-terrible-human-being case:

The NFL has hired former FBI director Robert S. Mueller III to investigate the league’s pursuit and handling of evidence in the Ray Rice domestic violence case after a report Wednesday that a league executive received videotape evidence five months before it became public.

New York Giants owner John Mara and Pittsburgh Steelers owner Art Rooney will oversee the investigation, and the final report will be made public, according to league’s statement, which noted Commissioner Roger Goodell has pledged the full cooperation of NFL personnel and access to all league records.

The announcement came hours after the Associated Press published a report citing an unnamed law enforcement official who said he sent a tape of Rice punching his then-fiancée to an NFL executive long before the video surfaced on TMZ.com on Monday, leading to Rice’s release from the Baltimore Ravens and his indefinite suspension by the league.

The law enforcement official — speaking to the AP on condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation — also played the AP a 12-second voicemail from an NFL office number on April 9 confirming the video arrived. A female voice expresses thanks and says: “You’re right. It’s terrible.”

The NFL commissioner may have thought he’d put the Ray Rice issue behind him after the elevator video was released to the public, but now it’s being alleged that the league actually did get a copy of the video before Goodell suspended Rice for a token two-game stretch. Ace thinks this might have been Goodell’s reasoning for doing as he did:

Could that be Goodell’s spin? “I knew about it, but I had to protect a source”?

Although this spin won’t save Goodell, part of his thinking might have been this:

1. This punch is atrocious, a potentially lethal full-on boxer’s knockout punch.

2. However, the evidence of this is currently being withheld from the public by law.

3. Even though I know about this tape, I cannot use it as the basis for my decision, as it is in my hands illegally.

4. Further, I could not explain to the public, nor to the NFL Player’s union, the reasons for a severe punishment, because they would cry foul and cry “PC over-punishment!” unless they see this horror in real time, which I have seen, but they have not, and maybe never will.

I don’t know if that’s what they were thinking (assuming Goodell saw it, and frankly, I don’t know how he could not have seen it — This is his job; punishing a player for an infraction is not something you delegate to the branch office in Cincinnati like Lois Lerner did (wink, wink)), and I doubt this would cut much ice even it it were.

Even if Goodell didn’t think he could suspend Rice indefinitely absent the public unveiling of the tape — Two Game Suspension? When another guy just got a four game suspension for some minor substance abuse rap?

August 16, 2014

“Alberta politics have never been more interesting”

Filed under: Cancon, Politics — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 10:06

In Maclean’s, Colby Cosh explains why the recent Auditor-General’s special report has been unusually newsworthy:

The fireworks that accompanied last week’s special report by Alberta Auditor-General Merwan Saher were, at first blush, a little mysterious. The A-G’s report into disgraced premier Alison Redford’s bizarre use of government aircraft had already been partially leaked, and did not contain much that had not already been reported. But it was greeted with remarkable excitement — broken down, line by line, on social media as if someone were tweeting the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Even a political commentator born in Social Credit Alberta needed a little time to realize why. It wasn’t that Redford and her daughter had been allowed to treat Alberta government aircraft like theme-park rides. It wasn’t that the premier had tried to build a secret downtown crash pad in a government building in the capital. It was that an independent officer of the Alberta legislature was pointing it all out, harshly, in plain English, with no fudge.

Such characters—departmental ombudsmen, freedom-of-information (FOI) commissioners, and the like—have usually been very tame creatures in Alberta, often doing more to make scandals disappear than they do to rectify them. (The Edmonton Journal observed in July that over the past 20 years, two-thirds of Alberta FOI requests for provincial records yielded no documents whatsoever.)

However, scandal or no scandal, it would be rash to predict a sudden end to the Alberta Progressive Conservatives no matter how much dirt is evident:

Alberta’s privileged classes thus have a sort of unspoken deal with the PCs, and it is this deal the PCs are counting on as they try to hustle Prentice to the podium in September. But the 2011 election results and the current polls show Albertans wondering whether Danielle Smith’s Wildrose Party could not manage things at least as competently as Ed Stelmach or as ethically as Alison Redford. The province’s labour markets remain tight, and oil prices are buoyant, but the treasury is borrowing. Young liberal urbanites who were stampeded into voting PC in 2011 will not be so easy to terrorize a second time.

In short, Alberta politics have never been more interesting. Yet it is worth remembering that both Stelmach and Redford won enormous election victories, and that the PCs have survived in power through a 150 per cent increase in the province’s population. Four decades’ work is not undone overnight.

July 26, 2014

Royal Navy commander may have had affair with crew member

Filed under: Britain, Military — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 11:04

From the Guardian, a report on a current investigation into a Royal Navy officer who may have had an affair with a subordinate:

The first female commander of a major Royal Navy warship has left her vessel after claims she had an affair with a shipmate.

Commander Sarah West, 42, took charge of Type 23 frigate HMS Portland in May 2012.

It is understood she has left the ship while the navy investigates the claims. Her second-in-command has taken over the running of the vessel, but West is still the commanding officer.

The navy inquiry will consider whether West breached the armed forces’ code of social conduct, which governs personal relationships within the military. Possible punishments for a breach include a formal warning, reassignment and even termination of service.

A Royal Navy spokesman said: “We are aware of an allegation of a breach of the code of social conduct on board HMS Portland, which we are treating seriously.

“Anyone who is found to fall short of the Royal Navy’s high standards can expect to face appropriate action. It would be inappropriate to comment further.”

West made headlines when she became the first female commander of a frontline warship in the 500-year history of the service.

But earlier this year she explained how work commitments made it difficult to have a relationship.

June 16, 2014

FIFA and the World Cup

Filed under: Americas, Bureaucracy, Football — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 07:29

H/T to Roger Henry for the link.

June 15, 2014

Questions that need to be asked of the IRS in wake of email loss announcement

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Government, Politics, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 09:57

Sharyl Attkisson has a set of questions that someone in congress or within the Justice department should be directing toward the IRS after Friday’s announcement that, oopsie, we kinda sorta lost those Lois Lerner emails you were interested in reading:

  • Please provide a timeline of the crash and documentation covering when it was first discovered and by whom; when, how and by whom it was learned that materials were lost; the official documentation reporting the crash and federal data loss; documentation reflecting all attempts to recover the materials; and the remediation records documenting the fix. This material should include the names of all officials and technicians involved, as well as all internal communications about the matter.
  • Please provide all documents and emails that refer to the crash from the time that it happened through the IRS’ disclosure to Congress Friday that it had occurred.
  • Please provide the documents that show the computer crash and lost data were appropriately reported to the required entities including any contractor servicing the IRS. If the incident was not reported, please explain why.
  • Please provide a list summarizing what other data was irretrievably lost in the computer crash. If the loss involved any personal data, was the loss disclosed to those impacted? If not, why?
  • Please provide documentation reflecting any security analyses done to assess the impact of the crash and lost materials. If such analyses were not performed, why not?
  • Please provide documentation showing the steps taken to recover the material, and the names of all technicians who attempted the recovery.
  • Please explain why redundancies required for federal systems were either not used or were not effective in restoring the lost materials, and provide documentation showing how this shortfall has been remediated.
  • Please provide any documents reflecting an investigation into how the crash resulted in the irretrievable loss of federal data and what factors were found to be responsible for the existence of this situation.
  • I would also ask for those who discovered and reported the crash to testify under oath, as well as any officials who reported the materials as having been irretrievably lost.

Losing an ordinary email archive happens now and again. Losing an email archive that is the focus of some fascinating questions about the IRS being used as a partisan oppression device against political opponents? That will take a lot of explaining away, as it’s just too convenient and the timing is highly suspicious. What is even more interesting is that the IRS hinted that since they can’t find those emails, they’re thinking of abandoning the investigation. So, clearly there’s nothing to see here and we should all just move along now.

Update: This seems relevant.

Update, 17 June: Megan McArdle assesses whether this “innocent” explanation is plausible.

In short, yes, there is an innocent explanation: An accident combined with a really bad e-mail storage policy to wipe out critical records. There’s also a semi-innocent explanation, where really bad storage policy could have enabled Lerner to arrange a hard drive accident that destroyed incriminating e-mails before she had to respond to Camp’s initial letter. I find the innocent explanation much more plausible than a conspiracy, or even the semi-innocent explanation — even assuming that she was conspiring with the White House, why bother with the elaborate schemes when you could just send your incriminating e-mails from an outside account?

But that still leaves me really concerned about the terrible policy decisions. The timing of the data loss is incredibly suspicious, and the IRS has left itself completely unable to answer those suspicions with anything better than a shrug. It should expect — in fact, it should request — a thorough outside investigation of this incident, but even the most scrupulous audit will not be able to entirely quell the worry that the IRS enabled a rogue agent to get away with destroying evidence.

To believe the IRS requires a pretty low opinion of government competence. My friends who work in regulated sectors such as finance are outraged by the IRS’s description of how it was running its backup process, because the government subjects them to constantly ratcheting standards for document retention — specifying how long, and on what format, they have to keep every communication ever generated by their firms. How dare they demand higher standards of regulated companies than they do of the regulators?

In 2014, every government agency should be storing every e-mail that goes in or out in an easily accessible format. That they weren’t bothering suggests that the IRS does not expect to deliver the kind of accountability that it routinely demands of taxpayers. That’s potentially a much bigger problem than anything Lois Lerner stands accused of — and it should be rectified, government-wide, with all due speed.

A few minutes later, Megan sent out this Twitter update:

June 13, 2014

Ontario embraces scandal, mismanagement and deficits

Filed under: Cancon, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 07:25

Well, that happened. As Elizabeth said to me when I got up this morning, at least it means we see the back of Tim Hudak. Aside from that, not a lot of encouraging news from the polls. We have set our acceptable political standards to a much lower notch, and we clearly don’t think it’s a bad thing to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on party purposes. Noted.

Premier Kathleen Wynne didn’t win the election so much as Horwath and Hudak lost it. Horwath was cut off at the knees by her own party (and organized labour), while Hudak tried on a set of fiscal conservative policies for size … and they didn’t fit at all. Things must have been more desperate inside the Liberal war room earlier in the campaign, if they felt they had to get the Ontario Provincial Police and the media unions to both declare for Wynn (if any two organizations should stay out of politics, they’d be the ones). And yet, once the votes were counted, they clearly didn’t need to force those two organizations out of their traditional neutral stances after all.

And, to top off the sudden acceptance of a much lower standard of political conduct by the provincial government, we get to watch (and suffer financially) as the province introduces a mandatory pension scheme on the false basis that Ontarians aren’t saving enough of their own money for retirement. That’s going to be fun. I wonder what the job market is like in Alberta…

Paul Wells offers his take on the election:

Kathleen Wynne’s victory is historic, it is almost all hers, and its meaning is a little opaque, because there is a tension between her platform and her record that will be resolved only by her actions, now that she has the length of a majority mandate to show Ontarians what kind of premier she wants to be.

Historic: She is Ontario’s first elected woman premier. Almost all hers: People who make a living proclaiming their knowledge of strategy said she was crazy to put herself at the centre of her party’s messaging and communication to the extent she did. She voiced her own attack ads. To voters upset about the mess McGuinty left behind, she offered her person as sufficient guarantee that the past would stay past. It’s what Paul Martin attempted in 2002-2006, but Wynne offered none of Martin’s creepy intramural fratricide and never benefited from the fast-burning personal popularity that seemed, at first, to be Martin’s greatest asset until he ran out of it. The funny thing about a cult of personality is, sometimes it works better if you don’t have quite as much personality. Rule One in Bill Davis’s Ontario is, don’t get on people’s nerves.

But there are a lot of Conservatives in Ontario who have forgotten the province was ever Bill Davis’s. There are a lot of people who accreted around Mike Harris in 1990 like barnacles — the Little Shits, Frank magazine used to call them — and they’ve never really grown up. They were at Trinity College or Upper Canada College or Hillfield Strathallan or some other dreary Anglo-Saxon dumping ground in the early ’80s when Ronald Reagan came on TV and fired the air traffic controllers, and they’ve spent the rest of their lives looking for an excuse to play Ayn Rand Home Edition. It even worked in 1995, when Mike Harris came back from his 1990 drubbing and years of the worst recession, combined with the worst government, Ontario had seen in ages. Harris’s “Common Sense Revolution” worked because by 1995, thanks to Bob Rae, common sense seemed revolutionary.


But back to Wynne. She ran on activist government, and celebrated victory by congratulating those who want to “build up Ontario.” But Ontario can’t afford the Ontario it’s got. Wynne’s own platform quietly acknowledges this. Hard public-sector wage freezes and a new program-review exercise won’t feel much like building up. If she abandons them for more spending, she simply postpones harder choices. She has proven herself a redoubtable politician; now she had better be a very good premier, because she’s put herself in a fix to get the mandate she just won.

But that’s a high-class problem, one she would not trade for the simpler life Hudak can now look forward to. (A word on the NDP’s Andrea Horwath: she is in trouble with some New Democrats for forcing this election and losing the bargaining power she had in a minority-government legislature. But the balance of power is not a comfortable place to be after a while, and Horwath was well into the zone where, every time she propped Wynne up, voters would wonder why. The NDP should cut her some slack.)

May 23, 2014

He was for the Veterans Health Administration before he was against it

The Wall Street Journal‘s James Taranto rounds up some amusing-in-hindsight bloviations by Paul Krugman about the efficiencies of the Veterans Health Administration:

There was no ObamaCare in January 2006, when former Enron adviser Paul Krugman wrote this:

    I know about a health care system that has been highly successful in containing costs, yet provides excellent care. And the story of this system’s success provides a helpful corrective to anti-government ideology. For the government doesn’t just pay the bills in this system — it runs the hospitals and clinics.

    No, I’m not talking about some faraway country. The system in question is our very own Veterans Health Administration, whose success story is one of the best-kept secrets in the American policy debate.

The “secret” of the VA’s “success,” Krugman argued, “is the fact that it’s a universal, integrated system.” That saves on administrative costs and allows for efficient record-keeping. Krugman acknowledged that the VA had a history of mismanagement and mediocre care, until “reforms beginning in the mid-1990’s transformed the system.” But wait. Hasn’t it been a universal, integrated system all along? Maybe the secret is something else. At any rate, the Phoenix revelations suggest it’s the system’s failures that are being kept secret.

Krugman lamented that his argument “runs completely counter to the pro-privatization, anti-government conventional wisdom that dominates today’s Washington.” That was 2006, remember, when Republicans had the White House and both houses of Congress. If Krugman is to be believed — a big “if,” to be sure — the Bush administration did a far better job running the VA than the Obama administration is doing now. Which reminds us of something Waldman wrote: “There’s an old saying that when they’re out of office, Republicans argue that government is inefficient and incompetent, and when they get in office, they set about to prove it.”

Krugman concluded that 2006 column as follows:

    Ideology can’t hold out against reality forever. Cries of “socialized medicine” didn’t, in the end, succeed in blocking the creation of Medicare. And farsighted thinkers are already suggesting that the Veterans Health Administration, not President Bush’s unrealistic vision of a system in which people go “comparative shopping” for medical care the way they do when buying tile (his example, not mine), represents the true future of American health care.

Good Glitches,” anyone?

Krugman managed to get two more columns out of the glorious VA. One, in September 2006, also damned Medicare Advantage and complained that the administration opposed the idea of letting elderly vets use Medicare benefits at VA hospitals:

    “Conservatives,” writes Time, “fear such an arrangement would be a Trojan horse, setting up an even larger national health-care program and taking more business from the private sector.”

    Think about that: they won’t let vets on Medicare buy into the V.A. system, not because they believe this policy initiative would fail, but because they’re afraid it would succeed.

OK, but think about this: According to The-Military-Guide.com, “if you’re eligible for any level of VA care, whether it’s high-priority or low-priority, you’re no longer eligible for ACA exchange subsidies.” (ACA is an abbreviation for PPACA, in turn an abbreviation for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, ObamaCare’s official title.) There are worse things than being excluded from ObamaCare, of course — but the VA may be one of them.

April 12, 2014

Under-the-table money in college sports

Filed under: Football, Sports, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 08:58

As I’ve said before, I don’t follow US college football — which is why the pre-draft churn of names and teams in NFL coverage moves me very little — so my knowledge of how the NCAA organizes and manages team sports is pretty low. I do know that a lot of university student athletes are given scholarships with many nasty strings attached which force them into emphasizing the sport over their education. The scholarships are tied to team performance, so that what should be a great opportunity for a kid to earn a degree that otherwise would be out-of-reach effectively turns into four years of indentured servitude, followed by non-graduation. The students are also forbidden to earn money from activities related to their sport (signing autographs for a fee or selling an old game jersey can get you thrown out of school). Gregg Easterbrook regularly points out that some “powerhouse” football schools have terrible graduation rates for their students: the players are used up and discarded and nobody cares that they leave college no better off — and in many cases much worse-off — than when they started.

That’s one of the reasons I’m fascinated with the drive to introduce unions at the college level: even if the students don’t end up with a salary, they should at least be able to count on their scholarship to keep them attending class regardless of the whims of their coaches.

However, if the allegations in this story are true, the situation is even murkier than I’d been lead to believe:

The Bag Man excuses himself to make a call outside, on his “other phone,” to arrange delivery of $500 in cash to a visiting recruit. The player is rated No. 1 at his position nationally and on his way into town. We’re sitting in a popular restaurant near campus almost a week before National Signing Day, talking about how to arrange cash payments for amateur athletes.

“Nah, there’s no way we’re landing him, but you still have to do it,” he says. “It looks good. It’s good for down the road. Same reason my wife reads Yelp. These kids talk to each other. It’s a waste of money, but they’re doing the same thing to our guys right now in [rival school’s town]. Cost of business.”

Technically, this conversation never happened, because I won’t reveal this man’s name or the player’s, or even the town I visited. Accordingly, all the other conversations I had with different bag men representing different SEC programs over a two-month span surrounding National Signing Day didn’t happen either.

Even when I asked for and received proof — in this case a phone call I watched him make to a number I independently verified, then a meeting in which I witnessed cash handed to an active SEC football player — it’s just cash changing hands. When things are done correctly, there’s no proof more substantial than one man’s word over another. That allows for plausible deniability, which is good enough for the coaches, administrators, conference officials, and network executives. And the man I officially didn’t speak with was emphatic that no one really understands how often and how well it almost always works.


This is the arrangement in high-stakes college football, though of course not every player is paid for. Providing cash and benefits to players is not a scandal or a scheme, merely a function. And when you start listening to the stories, you understand the function can never be stopped.

“Last week I got a call. We’ve got this JUCO transfer that had just got here. And he’s country poor. The [graduate assistant] calls me and tells me he’s watching the AFC Championship Game alone in the lobby of the Union because he doesn’t have a TV. Says he never owned one. Now, you can buy a Walmart TV for $50. What kid in college doesn’t have a TV? So I don’t give him any money. I just go dig out in my garage and find one of those old Vizios from five years back and leave it for him at the desk. I don’t view what I do as a crime, and I don’t give a shit if someone else does, honestly.”

“If we could take a vote for these kids to make a real salary every season, I would vote for it. $40,000 or something. Goes back to mama, buys them a car, lets them go live like normal people after they work their asses off for us. But let’s be honest, that ain’t gonna stop all this. If everyone gets $40,000, someone would still be trying to give ’em 40 extra on the side.”

This is how you become a college football bag man.

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