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Updated: 2018-03-02T12:36:37.384-03:30


Uniting the Left II


I've already posted my thoughts on this issue before and nothing since then has improved the idea.  It made sense for the PCs and Reform (or Alliance or whatever) to combine because they had been one party for most of the 20th century.  But even after merging they still can't seem to attract much more support than one-third of the population.

There are serious structual and political obstacles to a Liberal-NDP party merge and nothing I have seen, heard or read indicate that they are going away anytime soon.  A coalition government is much more likely and is the path of far lesser resistance in unseating the government which holds power today. 

More Political Health


I've commented from time to time on the mechanics of political health.  In this case I don't mean the health of the larger body politic but rather the health of bodies of politicians.  For example, the use of hand sanitizer during campaigns has been the subject of some commentary.  Some argue they are necessary to keep the politician from catching colds or worse while others claim that hand sanitizers insult voters.  Then there is the issue of eating on the campaign trail.  If you are what you eat then, at least on the campaign trail, politicians are entirely fats and carbohydrates.

But campaigns are only a product of deep preparation so it's only sensible that preparation starts with the bodies doing the running.  This article in the New York Times covers the issue of pre-campaign training and eating regimes which go on months before the formal campaigns start.

Running for office is like any other physical activity; diet plays a part.

Making government policy


Start with a cage containing five monkeys.

Inside the cage, hang a banana on a string and place a set of stairs under it. Before long, a monkey will go to the stairs and start to climb towards the banana. As soon as he touches the stairs, spray all of the other monkeys with cold water.

After a while, another monkey makes an attempt with the same result - all the other monkeys are sprayed with cold water. Pretty soon, when another monkey tries to climb the stairs, the other monkeys will try to prevent it.

Now, put away the cold water. Remove one monkey from the cage and replace it with a new one. The new monkey sees the banana and wants to climb the stairs. To his surprise and horror, all of the other monkeys attack him.

After another attempt and attack, he knows that if he tries to climb the stairs, he will be assaulted.

Next, remove another of the original five monkeys and replace it with a new one. The newcomer goes to the stairs and is attacked. The previous newcomer takes part in the punishment with enthusiasm! Likewise, replace a third original monkey with a new one, then a fourth, then the fifth. Every time the newest monkey takes to the stairs, he is attacked.

Most of the monkeys that are beating him have no idea why they were not permitted to climb the stairs or why they are participating in the beating of the newest monkey.

After replacing all the original monkeys, none of the remaining monkeys have ever been sprayed with cold water. Nevertheless, no monkey ever again approaches the stairs to try for the banana. Why not? Because as far as they know that's the way it's always been done round here.

And that, my friends, is how government policy is made. 

(not original to me but too good not to pass on)

Blogger wars


I've been closely watching the local blogger wars (and associated commentary) as seen here, here, here, here, here and here. This massive exchange demonstrates to me that it takes only the slightest spark to draw in all the pyromaniacs.

I have strong feelings about this mess and I know who I trust but I prefer to keep all of that sordid information to myself. Suffice it to say that I'm confident that the most sensible thought on the subject, albeit tangentially, was Russell Wangersky's.

What I will suggest to all parties is that some comments clearly showed the need for some coaching in some of the finer points of waging and winning an online war. As a public service, I point out this article from Wired, How to Win an Internet Flame War. Of course this article assumes anonymous players so I'm not sure how it applies to those wars where the players have at least a nodding acquaintance with each other.

Worst case



Thank you for arguing


I've long been dismayed with the local fixation on the "rant".  I enjoy Rick Mercer's take on the form but the amateur would-be ranters just don't get what it's all about.  A rant, properly executed, is a carefully structured, erudite, coherent, logical polemic.  It is not a simple spew of whatever is on one's mind.  If you want to see a true master of the form, I can think of none better than Keith Olbermann, an American talking head on MSNBC.  Check here and here for real jewels.

Related to the rant/spew confusion is the argument/fight confusion.  What brought this matter to a head in my mind is the latest Williams meltdown, this time live on VOCM, which many confused for an argument or dispute.  It was not.  It was a drive-by pie-toss at an unsuspecting pedestrian.

But the point of this post is not to dwell on the premier's semi-hysterical rhetorical media muggings but to point out that arguments are good things.  Arguments are how we make progress on issues and explore possible solutions.  Arguments are not disputes; arguments are how we resolve disputes.  Arguments are not fights and they are not personal.  People have the misconception that arguments should be avoided because they lead to conflict but in the hands of the sensible, they are resolutions to conflict.

I just came across this column, by Jay Heinrichs, the author of Thank You For Arguing (a book I highly recommend) which talks about how teaching your kids to argue diffuses conflict and encourages critical thought about even the most mundane things.  This article is sort of late for me because I've already stumbled through the rearing of my own children, making it up as I went along.  But I'm relieved that some of the principles I tried to set for my relationship with them is mirrored in many of the things Heinrichs writes here.

Imagine if more parents had followed the principles outlined here; how different our public sphere would be!

Dialing while pissed


Ever make a telephone call you later regretted? You know, call somebody up, say something intemperate and then hang up in a huff?

Ever do it while being Premier?

To a live talk radio show?

Well, Danny Williams did.

Listen right to the end to get the full effect.

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Updates and commentary:
Here and

Iran election


(image) (image) One country I have yet to visit that I really want to visit is Iran. And the recent election, where Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was "reelected" in a landslide only makes me want to visit even more.

Iran has a unique political system with an elected secular component and a mullah-based component, led by Iran’s "supreme leader" Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, which dominates the elected side. It's a weird combination and balance of the democratic and the theocratic. Now the balance is out of whack and what's left is just weird.

The protests over the weekend calling for an investigation into potentially fixed results indicates that Iranians, the ones that live in Tehran anyways, are not satisfied to be ruled against their will be parochial religious conservatives. Latest news is that opposition leaders are banned from holding rallys and the leaders are under house arrest. It seems unlikely that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was "reelected"
with a 62% margin even in the hometown of the oppistion leader.

(image) We can be cynical around here about elections but there are still parts of the world where people feel elections really mean something and that they have real impacts on their lives. The import attached to elections results can be huge because so much is at stake. Rather than contests between small variations of public policy or the cults of personality-based elections we see around here, in countries like Iran elections are battles of fundamental ideals and ideas. And people care. At least, they will care as long as they feel they have a chance to make a difference.

The situation in Iran is complex. Even the media-described "liberal" factions are, by our standards, more conservative than the average Canadian would feel comfortable with. I've read no calls for the dismantling of the religious-dominated system, only calls for the system to live up to what it has promised. It reminds a bit of the late 80s when Gorbachev called for a reform of the Communist state, not for up-ending it.

This is a story worth following.

Heading to Doha town


(image) It’s 5:30am in St. John’s and I see the sun is shining bright through the skylights of Frankfurt airport. In 3 hours I have a flight to Doha, Qatar where I’ve been invited to judge the Qatari National Debate Trials. 90 students will compete for the opportunity to represent their country at the world’s level.

Regular readers will know that I have been heavily involved in debating at all levels as competitor, organiser and coach. So when this opportunity arrived through an email on Monday morning, those who knew me well weren’t surprised to see me boarding a plane on Wednesday noon for Doha.

This is not the first time I’ve travelled to parts unknown (to me, anyway) to help with debating. In ’88 and ’90 I travelled to the USSR to do much the same. Some people like to go abroad to dig wells, build clinics or other necessary infrastructure. I’m not very good at digging wells so I go abroad to build social and political infrastructure. Debating, at it’s core, is all about Freedom of Speech. And for me that’s the best Freedom ever! In fact it’s so good that it’s too good to keep to ourselves; I think everyone else should have it too.

Qatar does not show up in the lists of the most democratic or free countries out there. Compared to most Arab countries, it is very free. Compared to what we have in Canada, its stultifying. I don’t kid myself that student debate will start a revolution. But I do hope that if that revolution, or fundamental reform, finally comes, then I will have done some small bit to help some of the potential national leaders appreciate the value of verbal combat over martial combat.

I’m only in Doha for Friday and Saturday after almost 36 hours of travel each way. Still, never having been there is a good enough reason to go in my books.

Updates to follow!

Ruby Dhalla and editorial discretion


Newspaper photo editors have enormous discretion in the photos they select to illustrate stories. And when it comes to young and comely politicians, the range of possibilities can be wide indeed.

Take the case of Ruby Dhalla and consider this photo. Ask yourself what kind of story would this photo be considered appropriate to illustrate (keeping in mind that the photo is copyright Maxim)

(image) .

As it turns out, it was used to illustrate a story on the world's most physically attractive female politicians.

Maybe this is a case of living by the sword and thereby dying by the sword but still, when politicians are in public favour, the photos are flattering and attractive. But when they fall out of favour, it would be hard to recognise them as the same person.

Consider the media choices of illustrating photographs pre-nannygate and post-nannygate.

(image) (image)

Can you tell which is which? Worth a thousand words or more.


I love elections


I love elections and everything about them.  I love the strategy and the tactics.  I love the language around elections, even the dumb bits.  I love the rules and laws which govern elections, even the strange and arcane ones.

I love the way that a competition among groups produces that which governs us.

My ideal job would be international elections observer.  That way I could see, first hand, incredible colourful images like these from the ongoing Indian election.





New blog for the policy wonks


If you are into hardcore policy analysis (and face it, who isn't?) then this new blog from AIMS will fill your boots.
I've found AIMS to be an impressive shop producing quality and thought-provoking work.  A small group of researchers, they definitely punch above their weight in producing reports on Atlantic issues from a market perspective.  More than once they have twigged this province's government with inconvenient truths on education, municipal and general economic policy.  Local naysayers will dismiss their reports by trying to paint them as a crew of right wing nutjobs at the same time steering clear of substantive rebuttals.

As Churchill noted, if you are receiving flack then you must be over the target.


How they see us


It's comforting to know that the people of the world see us as happy and friendly, welcoming and warm.  It's comforting, but it's not true.

If you want to know how the world sees the people of the Canada (because this province is lumped into the national whole and doesn't merit a specific attack), then this piece is as good as any.

Doesn't matter if it's true or not.


Bad (political) dreams


A classic bad dream is falling from a great height. Or appearing at school to find out you have to write a surprise exam. Or speaking in front of a crowd to discover you have no clothes.

(image) How about speaking to the *wrong* crowd? A minister in the BJP government of the state of Karnataka in India, VS Acharaya, did exactly that.

Seeing an election rally under way while visiting the district of Udupi, he decided to go and put in his two cents worth as a courtesy to the locals. After delivering a blistering attack on the incompetence and corruption of the federal Congress Party led government, he discovered that he was speaking to a rally of, you guessed it, the Congress Party!

Police said the senior BJP leader beat a speedy retreat when he realised his mistake.

It's only a matter of time before that happens to some local hapless dolt.

Municipal Dance Hall - Pensions edition


(image) Mayor Doc O'Keefe and his colleagues on council are pretty busy people. on the PR front. They take every opportunity they can to notify local media of every stray thought thought that enters their heads, every random decision or action they take. These days it's hard for listeners of talk radio to escape their gentle voices from their persistent calls thoughtfully notifying voters of their latest worthy activities.

It is election year, after all, and it is the people's right to know what they are up to.

There are exceptions, of course. When Council chose to hike their salaries retroactively they made that decision on the sly hoping nobody would notice. Of course maybe they would have been more noisy if the election was in sight. No doubt some councilors would have choosen to decline to take the increase, as was done recently.

Since Council had their knuckles well and thoroughly rapped for that self-serving escapade, you would think they would know better next time. You would hope that the lesson had been learned: be upfront or be condemned.

So what would you expect members of Council to do as the province introduced legislation to the amend the city charter to permit these same members of council to draw a pension after just two terms in Gower Street bunker instead of three?

Maybe thunderous, deafening, ear-splitting silence? Almost like they didn't want anyone to notice?

Clearly the lesson has not sunk in.

By the way, neither of the charters for the cities of Mt. Pearl and Corner Brook make provisions of any kind for pensions for members of their councils.

Freeman Dyson


(image) Freeman Dyson (physicist, mathematician and general theorist fix-it man in everything from pure math to biology) is one of the very great minds of our time.  When luminaries like Feynman, Oppenheimer and Bethe consider him to be one of their very best who was fleeced because no Nobel came his way then you know you are dealing with a very sparkly mind here.

Unless you are a fan of theoretical physics and physicists then Dyson will not have appeared on your radar.  But if you are keen on science fiction and space travel then you might have come across the Dyson Sphere or possibly the Orion Project for nuclear propulsion.

The New York Times has a wonderful profile of him with this story about just how off-the-charts smart this gentleman is:
At Jason, taking problems to Dyson is something of a parlor trick. A group of scientists will be sitting around the cafeteria, and one will idly wonder if there is an integer where, if you take its last digit and move it to the front, turning, say, 112 to 211, it’s possible to exactly double the value. Dyson will immediately say, “Oh, that’s not difficult,” allow two short beats to pass and then add, “but of course the smallest such number is 18 digits long.” When this  happened one day at lunch, William Press remembers, “the table fell silent; nobody had the slightest idea how Freeman could have known such a fact or, even more terrifying, could have derived it in his head in about two seconds.” The meal then ended with men who tend to be described with words like “brilliant,” “Nobel” and “MacArthur” quietly retreating to their offices to work out what Dyson just knew.
The point of this profile, besides inherent interest in a remarkable man, is to delve into his sharp criticisms of global warming advocates.  I've not put much thought into the details of the ins and outs of global warming but Dyson has.  His thoughts are worth reviewing, not to debunk global warming, but to see the workings and priorities of an independent mind.


Laugh of the day


As long as you have passing familiarity with the Night of the Long Knives (Canadian version) and Twitter, then you will get a laugh out of this.

St. John's municipal dancehall (3)


(image) Just when you thought civilization had returned to the bunker on Gower, a racket breaks out (opens in Real Media).

According to multiple news reports, Councilor Galgay started taking more time than he should have while tabling a document when he was shouted down by Mayor Doc ("Guiding a great city") O'Keefe in concert with Councillor Keith ("Let's tax more") Coombs who chimed in at the top of his lungs because. . . well. . . just because he could.

What's the real problem here? It seems like they believe that time is in such short supply that if one councillor takes some time then that will leave too little time for other councillors to consume. And why do they all need all this time so badly that they will publicaly scrap over it like hungry dogs after a bone? The answer lies in the simple truth that this is an election year and they are all very touchy about making sure that no councillor takes any more time than any other.

Fear for your position makes grown people do silly things.

See also posts on Municipal Dancehall 1 and 2.


Forbidden words


(image) I have a list of forbidden words and phrases tacked up on my office wall. These include many favourites of the local political class including "frankly", "at the end of the day", "due diligence" and "drill-down", among others. The words on this list will not come from my keyboard or lips and I'll bounce a wad of paper off the head of anybody who tosses off such tripe in my office.

What do these words mean? Beats me. Mostly they are used by people in the public sphere to sound important when plain and simple words seem just too, well, plain and simple.

But doesn't "on a go-forward basis" simply mean "from now on"? And when did "piece" become a synonym for "issue"?

In Great Britain, positive steps have been taken to stamp out this rubbish. The Local Government Association (their NL Federation of Municipalities equivalent) has released a list of words and phrases to be avoided.

LGA chairman Margaret Eaton says that the public sector must not hide behind impenetrable jargon and phrases saying "Why do we have to have 'coterminous, stakeholder engagement' when we could just 'talk to people' instead?"

Why indeed?

If you'd like, take the time to leave a comment with your favourite example of words and phrases which government should avoid.

Talking, speaking, speeches


Regular readers will know that I have a long-time fascination (here, here, here and here) with the ancient form of public communications known as speeches.

Speeches are not about just talking aloud or reading from a news release or yelling in front of a crowd. A true speech is a dialogue between the speaker and the audience with a form and structure which leads the audience emotionally and intellectually to new places. A great speech energizes, soars and provokes thought and feelings which were previously latent; a bad speech is discordant, dull, predictable.

There's a misconception, in my opinion now laid to rest by the rise of Obama, that we are past the age of speeches and that they are no longer relevant or useful. Of course they are relevant and useful. The real issue is whether the current crop of political leaders have the chops to deliver speeches are relevant and useful.

Jeffery Simpson believes that the current Prime Minister does not have the chops. I agree.


Ron Silver (AKA Bruno Gianelli) 1946-2009


If you were a fan of West Wing (and who wasn't?), then you would remember the character of the super political consultant Bruno (take no prisoners) Gianelli played by Ron Silver. Bruno was crucial to the overall series story arc by providing a burst of energy in pushing the narrative to a new level.

One great exchange from the show:

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Those weren't Ron Silver's words, they were Aaron Sorkin's, but they might as well have been his because he sold them so well. He was a fine and intelligent (spoke Spanish and Chinese) actor who sat on the Council on Foreign Relations and held very strong political views of his own. He was politically active having previously campaigned for Bill Clinton, Rudolph W. Giuliani, George W. Bush and voted for Barak Obama.

To hear Silver's own words, this clip is a good one.
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Ron Silver was a sharp and clear voice of independent political thought, silenced by esophageal cancer at the young age of 62.

The Ryan and Brian show


What would VOCM Nightline do if it weren't for the host's family, friends and former co-workers willing to donate their personal time to the cause of filling up air time?

And what would they possibly talk about if it weren't for the opportunity for further relentless grinding of their well-honed personal political axes?

And never mind the endless conversations about how tough it is for them to deal with this catastrophe . . . for these self-pitying persons covering this tragic event for the media?

What indeed?

Maybe focus on the families and their loss?


Just asking the questions.

Capital punishment for children is wrong


As I've written before, there are few issues that would make me hit the streets in protest as fast as capital punishment. It's a capricious and irreversible form of punishment predicated on the illusion of infallibility of the justice system. When countries extend capital punishment to the underaged, that only underscores the tragedy for everyone involved.

Here is a local website established by a group of students at the school attended by my children. It's an online petition against capital punishment for children. Specifically they want to bring attention to Part 111, Article 6 of the United Nations International Convention on Civil and Political Rights which requires that the sentence of death shall not be imposed for crimes committed by persons below eighteen years of age.

This is a cause they have chosen to take on and it's a good one.

Please show your support.


George Baker


Yes, I understand


Premier Williams says on Nightline that he doesn't want the province to separate.  Perish the thought.

No, no, he just wants to have an independent provincial foreign policy!

Thank you for clarifying.