Friday, March 07, 2014

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Saturday, March 01, 2014

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Saturday, March 31, 2012

Political Science and Physics Envy

After an appropriately long hiatus, I return. 

Kevin Clarke and David Primo have a really nice piece in the NY Times this weekend. They boil down the essence of their recent book in arguing that: 

1. Political scientists have a fetish for going about science as physicists do. 
2. Physicists don't really do science this way. 

The alternative they propose is to think of models -- both empirical and theoretical -- as maps. The consequence of this is that they are judged by how practical they are, given their stated purpose. It's a compelling argument. I've used various drafts of Clarke and Primo's book in teaching fourth year specialist students about the nature of political science. I've also recommended it widely to grad students in our program at Toronto. Most importantly, it's done a lot to shape my thinking around how to go about empirical political science. It's worth picking up. 

Monday, November 28, 2011

Off to Lima

This blog is more or less static. It's just been too busy of a year to blog regularly. I've been working hard on papers, have been involved in two iterations of Vote Compass, and have done some teaching. But, I thought I'd drop a note here to direct you to a new riding blog, which is documenting my ride, with Sam and Nate Millar, from Canada to the bottom of South America.

I made a rather fast ride down to Lima in July, and then parked my bike there. Sam and Nate have been winding their way down since the start of November, and will arrive in Lima on the first of December. I'll fly in and join them. Then we'll begin our ride the rest of the way down.

The blog is here. Keep looking ahead.

PS Look out for a perhaps revived blog in the new year.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Stop the verbal abuse at the RCMP!

Return to more traditional kicks to the face!

William Elliot, the first civilian commissioner of the RCMP, is resigning. One of his former underlings -- apparently cowed by Elliot's gruff stye -- is recommending a return to non-civilian leadership at the RCMP. The biggest shame of this whole fiasco is that the opposition appears to be ready is going to cave and agree. They'll call for another officer be put in charge of the RCMP. And they'll assume that some oversight board can control this person. Ask Commons committees how much oversight they had over the last commissioner.

I'd be happy to eat my words, but I don't expect to.

If you're looking for a laugh, or a reason to cry, check out Don Davies' performance here, starting around 7 minutes. He appears either completely naive or entirely disingenous. Neither is very becoming.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Egypt


I am not an expert on Egypt, or on democratic emergence, or on Arab politics. So, I shall just share two things. First, this video is remarkable. Second, at the start of our Cairo to Cape Town trip, Sam and I kicked around Alexandria for a week. One of those days was spent with a taxi driver who spoke quite good English. We were trying to gain access to the port at Alexandria, and he was doing his best to free us from the bureaucratic net someone had dropped on us. It was a fool's errand, which at one point involved us in a taxi with him, a harpoon fisherman, a fellow who sold knock-off leather jackets, and one other fellow. I've posted the picture above. He was a man who was very proud to be Egyptian, but very keen to leave. I can still picture the road we were on when he told us "We are good people, but we live in a jail." Maybe, no more.



Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Susan Millard

There's much about party politics which I don't much like. Chief among these things are the often blind allegiance to a party's line; the partisan's susceptibility to the narcissism of small differences, leaving one to think that supporters of other parties are somehow fundamentally different and less deserving of favour; and the sometimes unquestioning commitment to leaders, who are usually just as fallible as the rest of us. That I am susceptible to all of these things is probably the chief reason I've not been more engaged in active politics, despite my professional and personal obsessions.

But all citizens are not made alike. The same forces that bring out the worst in some of us bring out the best in others. At it's best, engagement in electoral politics brings you together with passionate, affable, committed people. These people take up politics not because they want power, or office, or privilege, but because they believe in their cause. Just as often they do it because it is fun. Such people make politics as addictive as its less desirable elements.

My only real experience in politics was when I decamped to Nova Scotia in 2005 to help a friend's father try to win the leadership of the NS Tory Party. I believed deeply in the candidate, whatever my reservations with the party. In the course of four months there, I had the great privilege of working with Susan Millard. Susan was, I gathered, a staple of Halifax politics. With good cheer, dependability, and the right balance of idealism and cynicism, she threw herself into our campaign. She personified what was good about politics. She was not, I estimate, given to its excesses. But she was taken by its virtues. It's people like Susan who make competitive politics work in a humane way.

On Monday, Susan was killed by a car while crossing a street in Halifax. The world was better with her, and is now worse without her. Politics is a little worse, too.

Parliamentary democracy in action

For the third time in as many months, a party leader has been taken down by their caucus. As the story in today's Globe makes clear, Ed Stelmach was staring down a battle with a popular minister and by extension with his caucus. He didn't have the support to fire that minister. He didn't, in short, have the support of his caucus. This is undoubtedly sad for someone who was, by most accounts, a decent and well-intentioned fellow. But it's how parliamentary democracy should work. Rather than being tossed by people who pay $10 to join a party, he was tossed by those elected by the people. This is one more step towards restoring a proper balance in leadership election and deselection. 


Friday, December 31, 2010

Tony Proudfoot

Perhaps courage is in short supply in our times. But the charge cannot be levelled against Tony Proudfoot

Proudfoot died yesterday from ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease. Diagnosed in 2007, Proudfoot continued with his life at full pace. Most notably, he continued working as a radio broadcaster of Alouettes' football games, despite his impeded speech. And his foundation raised more than a half-million dollars for ALS research. 

I should also like to note that in the fall of 2006, when a gunman entered Dawson College and began shooting, Proudfoot left his office in that college (where he'd taught for many years) and administered first aid to a wounded student, despite the obvious and mortal danger. 

What courage, and what character. 

Monday, December 13, 2010

On altruism and organ donation

This weekend, the Toronto Star ran a remarkable story about a man who gave an anonymous liver transplant. You can read it here, along with an accompanying video.

By some metrics, this is an act of near pure altruism. This man gives something of himself to save someone else, without any material benefit. Ah, but you say, he receives the benefit of the admiration of his neighbours, his colleagues, and most certainly his wife, with whom he made the decision to give. But once reading the story, one gets the sense that he made the decision to give long before this admiration was due to him. Indeed, it was only after deciding to give and booking in for the procedure that he explained it to his colleagues and friends.

Perhaps he anticipated their praise and admiration, and this compelled him to give. But, there is an equally plausible story in which he felt some urge or impulse to do this act, quite apart from the expected praise. He felt a warm glow. This glow is merely prolonged by the admiration of others. There is, perhaps, a more purely altruistic mechanism at work here than a cynical account would suggest.

That's up for readers to decide, I guess. Either way, it's inspiring stuff.

Friday, December 10, 2010

On homelessness and the ethics of randomized controlled

The NYT has a very interesting article up on a randomized controlled trial for a homeless program in NY.

A social agency in New York runs a program which helps poor people with housing. The objective of the program is to prevent people from becoming homeless. It competes and works with several other programs to achieve this objective. However, they face a small problem: they have no idea if their program works. So, the organization has decided to randomly assign some people to enter their program, while denying others the right. 

You've read that correctly: they randomly chose some people by some lot or another to receive assistance, while others are denied it by virtue of the same draw. Dear reader, your initial reaction is probably that this is terribly cruel. This is certainly the reaction of many in NYC who are now opposing this trial. I'd like to argue that this is the most ethical course of action, in terms of both procedure or means, and ends. 

Two arguments recommend my position. First, while we should be concerned that social programs are just in their procedure -- think about the difference between feeding the poor respectfully and throwing them food from the back of a truck -- we should be most concerned that they are effective in their outcomes. Randomized controlled trials tell us more than any other method ever can whether a program has a negative or positive causal effect. This is no small matter. We waste billions of dollars every year on social programs that are meant to make peoples' lives better with virtually no systematic evidence that these programs work. If you believe that policy makers have an obligation to help the citizens who rely on them, then good intentions are not enough. We need to do our best to figure out what programs actually work and which do not. RCTs are the best way to do this. 

Second, this program suffers from scarcity, such that not everyone who applies can be accepted, despite their suitability for the program. So, we need some mechanism to decide in a fair manner who is admitted into the program and who is not. In the absence of randomization -- in which everyone has an equal chance -- some other criteria must be used. Now, a policy maker could select on need or suitability, or some other metric, but selecting on this eliminates the ability to figure out whether a program is effective, because you can't be sure that any differences in outcomes between those in the program and those out are a function of the program or the differences on which entrance into the program was granted. Alternately, a policy maker could grant access to someone they simply like more than others. This assuredly happens more often than we'd like to admit. I am sure there are other criteria, but the point remains that these other methods either limit our ability to measure outcomes, or they are arbitrary. In the worst case, they are both of these things. Contrast this with random assignment, in which everyone has equal chances of service. This is many scores more ethically defensible than some arbitrary selection mechanism. 

Experiments may seem unfair at first glance. After all, we don't like to think of humans as subjects in an experiment. But better subjects than participants in a series of arbitrarily administered and monitored programs bound for continued failure. That's more cruel than a coin flip. 

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

One more thought on BC

Given that the leaders of both major parties in BC have been pushed out by factions in their caucus, it appears that elected members are more powerful there than elsewhere. If this is true, how much of it is because of fixed election dates? In the absence of these set elections, one can imagine party leaders holding more sway over risk averse caucus members who fear a snap election under an interim or a new leader. But now, with the election date set, members know how much time they have to elect a new leader if they push out the current head. This is speculation at best, but the hypothesis has some face validity, I think.

Monday, December 06, 2010

A win for caucus authority?

Carole James has been made to resign as leader of the New Democratic Party of British Columbia. (The Globe has a quick story here).

This is the short story. James has faced serious dissent in her caucus, such that 13 members (out of a caucus of 35), have publicly signalled their wish for her to go. However, two weeks ago she won the support of her party's provincial council, which is some group of its elected and appointed riding executives with some union members thrown in for good measure, I am sure. I suspect Royce Koop knows for certain. Anyways, armed with this endorsement of party members, James' leadership looked secured. However, she met with just one of the 13 dissenters since then. The pressure on her increased when Jenny Kwan, a member of her caucus, released a long statement asking her to resign.

This is not a perfect battle between the authority of some unelected party members and elected members of the legislature, if only because the dissenters among the latter don't represent a majority in their caucus. But, it's close enough for the purposes of noting that a caucus has just turfed its leader for for the second time in BC politics in less than a year. This is a victory for those who think that elected politicians should have more say over who leads them than party members. I can preach it round or preach it straight, but for now it's enough to note that this is good evidence that the supremacy of parliamentary leaders in Canadian politics is not absolute. This is a very good thing.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

But what's his position on the Gravy Train?

Rob Ford gives an interview with CBC while running a football practice. This is truly amazing. Listen here.



Monday, October 25, 2010

Jack Layton proposes to subsidize polluters

Herein Jack Layton proposes to subsidize big polluters. Namely, all of us who heat our homes. 

I don't even really have the energy to complain about this, as it's so obviously wrong-headed. I'll leave it to Worthwhile Canadian Initiative

Suffice it to say that it just reflects how central and serious the NDP's problems are. They prefer policies which will disproportionately benefit the rich while trying to appear to help the poor.  It's too bad, really.    

H/T: To Calgary Grit, who notes that this reflect the NDP's "always consistent climate change policy."

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Russell Williams, Muslim Cartoons, and a question for the Star

Last week, the Toronto Star pasted a picture of Russell Williams, in female underwear, staring blankly back at readers. It was a picture as haunting as off-putting. The Star justifies its decision here. Whether you believe their arguments or not, it should at least be noted that they are hypocritical. 

In 2005, protests and violence flared up across the world in response to a series of 12 cartoons published in a Danish newspaper. As a result of their publication, embassies were burned, journalists and politicians had their lives threatened, the Danish economy was punished by boycotts of their exports, and more than 100 people were killed by police during protests in Muslim countries. This was no small matter. 

The Toronto Star was, like other major papers in Canada, unwilling to publish the cartoons that generated this controversy. This is the Star's prerogative, and whether it reflects cowardice or not is for that good paper's editors to consider. Readers can draw their own judgements. But it's clear that it's not an unshakeable principle of the Toronto Star to choose "the harder way for the right reasons."

Friday, July 09, 2010

Bob Probert

Bob Probert died this weekend. As always, this is a shame for family and friends. It's also a shame for hockey. All of his problems aside, I think Probert was the best enforcer of his generation. First, he was universally feared. But, more importantly, he was also productive offensively. Consider his numbers against four other tough guys. Probert was good for 384 points in 935 NHL games. That's .41 points per game. Tie Domi? 0.24. Joey Kocur? .20. Stu Grimson? .05. George Laraque? .22. Marty McSorley, who played among the greatest offences in the game? .37.

An enforcer who can also put the puck in the net creates havoc for a defense. Is there another pure enforcer with numbers like Probert's? In fact, can you think of a single one who's had three 20 goal seasons? McGinnis? Bodet? Gimme your answers. 

Friday, June 18, 2010

Air Canada smashes priceless lute*

I've had my share of baggage trouble of late, including a bag lost for a month, and a bottle of wine stolen from my luggage. But, if I was travelling with the equivalent of a suitcase full of $300,000, you can be sure I'd be taking up Air Canada on it's offer to buy the suitcase a seat and to carry it on board. 

The story is here

*Despite the headline, the lute does in fact have a price. 



Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Ignatieff's new foreign policy

Michael Ignatieff has released a new policy paper outlining his party's foreign policy. Among it's recommendations is keeping Canadian troops in Afghanistan after 2011, though in a training capacity. The merits or faults of this aside, it's an immensely important policy. 

So, what happens when Canada's largest paper writes an editorial about this? First, it buries this proposal in the last paragraph. And then it tells us that such details matter less than how bold the paper is. Really? What matters more than what a country does is how boldly and loudly it proclaims what it wants to do? Isn't that sort of the problem with our foreign policy in the first place? 




Thursday, June 03, 2010

War deaths increase local Conservative support

Daniel Rubenson and I presented the latest version of our paper on war deaths and Conservative candidate support. The basic story is that in 2008, Conservative candidates did better in constituencies that had experienced a war death. The abstract is here: 

War comes with terrible costs both in terms of money and lives. Do voters punish incumbents for theses costs? Much of the existing literature on the effects of war deaths on public opinion toward incumbents and their war efforts suggests that the answer is yes. We test this proposition on data from a non-US case: Canada's war in Afghanistan. We estimate models of the effect of local war deaths on government candidate support using both individual level panel data from the 2006 and 2008 Canadian Election Study and aggregate district level data. In none of our models do we find support for the conclusion that war deaths decrease support for candidates of the governing party. Instead we find strong evidence at both the individual and district levels that support for Conservative Party candidates is higher in districts that experienced war deaths.

The paper is here. And a nice article about it in the Toronto Star is here!  


Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Question Period and Television

Tasha Kheirridin has a nice piece in the Post today about saving Question Period. She makes the common argument that the introduction of television is a principal cause of the decline of Question Period. I think the essence of this article is that the demands of television make for shorter, more sensational questions. The second order effects, I imagine, is that this type of debate and coverage trickles all the way down into other political reporting. 

But is this true? However plausible, I've yet to see convincing evidence that the introduction of TV actually changed QP. Moreover, I can imagine equally plausible reasons why QP would have featured poor debate even prior to the introduction of TV. It seems like a great dissertation topic, and one that could pretty convincingly be demonstrated through some modelling and textual analysis. It would be helpful for our own debate over the topic, as well. 


Monday, May 10, 2010

Brown outflanks Cameron

And in one moment looks a little more like Jean Chretien and a little less like Paul Martin. 




Sunday, May 09, 2010

On my mind

Death Stands Above Me, Whispering Low

Death stands above me, whispering low
I know not what into my ear:
Of his strange language all I know
Is, there is not a word of fear.

Walter Savage Landor, 1853


Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Changing Question Period

Michael Chong has recommended substantial changes to Question Period. His recommendations will soon go before the House and then a Committee. Among his suggested changes are having a dedicated day for PM's question (as in Westminster), having themed days so not all ministers need to be briefed every day, and allowing the Speaker to call out to MPs off the list of questions. Taber has a nice summary here. 

This could fail spectacularly. It could work marvellously. Since things can't be much worse than now, it's most certainly worth a try.

You can read the article here




Sunday, May 02, 2010

Ignatieff and the GG: It is very unhelpful and unwise.

At the same time that Parliament is fighting for its right to be trusted with confidential documents of the most sensitive nature, the Leader of the Official Opposition is behaving as though he cannot be trusted with the most simple of discrete consultations. This is not helpful.

As often, Coyne is right on.

Update: Peter Russell weighs in and pulls no punches: "It is very helpful and unwise."

Thursday, April 15, 2010

On tonight's election debate

Britain will be hosting it's first ever televised leaders' debate this evening. It should be great, if for no other reason than that British politics prizes the parry and thrust so much more than our own. 

As for the debate, I point to this old post and repost the abstract of a paper by Blais and Perella on the effects of debates. 

Almost an entire generation of election survey data was pooled together from the United States and Canada to assess the systemic effects of televised debates. Four questions were posed: (1) Is there a general tendency for evaluations of candidates to improve or deteriorate after a debate? (2) Do evaluations of one candidate negatively correlate with changes in evaluations of opponents? (3) Do debates disadvantage incumbents? (4) Do debates advantage less popular candidates? Using "feeling thermometer" items to measure voter evaluations, four patterns are revealed. First, candidates generally gain points.The supposed mudslinging that characterizes a debate appears not to feed into any notion of cynicism. Instead, voters appear to gain an appreciation for the debaters. Second, a candidate's gain is not earned at the expense of those deemed to have "lost" the match. Third, a debate does not disadvantage an incumbent. A candidate with a record to defend stands about as much chance of benefiting from a debate as a challenger.And fourth, any evaluation gaps before a debate become narrower following a debate. This final effect, which is particularly true of American presidential debates, may reflect a debate's ability to raise awareness of less popular candidates.




Why private members business matters

This morning, Ron Bruinooge is holding a press conference about some private members bill he is introducing in regards to what he calls 'coerced abortion.' I'll say nothing on the merits of the bill, other than that Coyne's Contradiction must be noted here.*

That is an aside. The main point is that Bruinooge is introducing a private members bill, which he will no doubt use to raise funds for his next election. Opponents of restrictions on abortion will similarly trumpet this. The media will ask whether Bruinooge has any chance with this bill. The truth is, he does. He sits 79th on the list of consideration. This means 78 members get a crack at introducing bills which will be debated and will actually have a chance at passage. (It's a rather good chance, actually, and nothing like popular account suggest). So, he has some wait before his time. But, as it happens, we're now at that moment. Only James Rajotte sits ahead of Bruinooge on the list. So, this is going to come up for debate, it will be voted on for second reading, and will then possibly be referred to committee. If it makes it through committee, it will be voted on again by the entire house.

This is also a time for me to highlight the importance of this legislation generally. Private members business matters for at least three reasons:

First, it demonstrates that party discipline is not as strict as we like to think. Members regularly introduce legislation which their party leadership would rather they not.

Second, private members business matters for reelection, at least for government members. I have a paper with Koop and Fowler (recently rejected from a top science journal, if you need to know), that shows that the right to propose legislation is worth about 2.5 percentage points to members of the governing party. Ask Rahim Jaffer if he'd take that 2.5 points now!

Third, government members routinely use private members legislation to propose bills of national interest, and to push forward preferred policies. Kelly Blidook has shown, in a rather convincing fashion, that this matters for policy outputs. In a short, overly chatty piece, Koop and I extend this line of thinking.

In short, private members business gives representatives a small sliver of time in which to be legislators. It tells us about their preferences, and it allows them to lobby for the wishes of their constituents. This is what politics are about. Members should be praised when they make the most of these opportunities.

*Coyne's Contradiction goes something like this: we have no law in Canada on abortion, despite the fact that we heavily regulate almost every other aspect of health care. Some will say there is no need for a law, because there is a consensus. If there is a consensus, this should be easily put into law in the Commons. Some of those same people will then say that this cannot be debated in the Commons, because it is too contentious. If it is contentious, there is likely no consensus. If there is no consensus, then how else do we deal with this? Well, it is the stuff of politics and it should be dealt with by our politicians. I note that politicians have shown sufficient courage to deal with other issues of fundamental rights in the Commons, with same sex marriage being but the latest example.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Dear Sports Writers

I think it's pretty obvious to everyone that the new Nike ad isn't actually Tiger's father speaking to him. He's been dead four years. Move on.



Thursday, March 11, 2010

Rahim Jaffer, short term focus, and opposition tactics

This whole Rahim Jaffer affair is really perplexing. What seems most
likely is that his procedural rights were violated when he was asked
to give a breathalyzer and when he was searched for drugs. Police
occasionally make mistakes and, whether we like it or not, it happens
to be grounds for the dismissal of a lot of charges. For an example of
this, see Margaret Trudeau's exoneration on drunk driving charges a
few years ago.

So, here is what is perplexing and troubling about this to me. First,
why are the Tories not making the most of this to stand up for harsher
penalties and for more rectification of rights violations at the time
of sentencing, rather than at the time of trial? Second, why are
opposition parties, who we should generally think are quite supportive
of individual rights and strict protections against violations by the
state, willing to take such a frenzied and populist position on this?
In other words, why are they willing to ferment doubt about the
administration of justice when they'll likely squander whatever short
term opportunity it gives them? And why are they doing this when their
own general positions on this issue will be undermined if this issue
continues?

More generally, why do parties pursue lines of attack in the short
term which are not generally consistent with their views and/or with
their prior statements, and which may undermine them in the future?
For another example, consider how smart it is for an opposition party
which started the mission in Afghanistan and which has a leader who
has said manipulable things about torture to stake its claims on
prisoner transfers in another country by another government.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Change the national anthem? That's sic!

I recently joined a Facebook group that wants to protect "Oh (sic) Canada" from having the line about "all thy son's (sic) command" changed. 

David Eaves, eat your heart out!

Apparently, it's not the meaning of the line or the title that's sacrosanct; just the gender of whose true patriot love is commanded. 

Our Citizenship Primer

Suppose you were concerned about whether recently arrived Canadians are sufficiently respectful of individual rights and tolerance. Suppose you wished that they received the strongest signal possible about how much we prize individual liberty in Canada. Wouldn't it be most efficient to flag for them the most recent and, by international standards, far reaching demonstration of this. In other words, wouldn't you want them to know that one of the things we value is the right of consenting adults to do as they please? Apparently not. At some point, this all goes from a bee in a bonnet to something else. That's all. 


Monday, February 22, 2010

Friday, February 05, 2010

Do turkeys really vote for Christmas?

I've had several people forward me this story from the BBC. The short version is that it's puzzling why so many Americans vote for things that are against their own interests. It's essentially a rehash of Thomas Franks' "What's the Matter with Kansas?" (Or America, in the British version of the book). The problem, as Larry Bartels has shown, is that it's just not all that true. (For good measure, Bartels also took no less than Barack Obama to town for thinking the same thing. See his NY Times op ed here). 

Now, I suspect that Runciman hasn't read Bartels' responses. But even if he has, and he's still not convinced, he should traipse over to Andrew Gelman's blog and read this. Sometimes there's a man. Today that man is Gelman. 





Sunday, January 24, 2010

A good dog is not lost

After two weeks, Lufthansa has found my baggage which they lost en
route to Geneva. As my friend Loren would say, "thanks for doing
what's expected of you."

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Thanks, Apple!

I bought an iPhone a week ago. This morning I dropped it in my
apartment, breaking the home button. This afternoon I strolled into an
Apple Store and they gave me a new phone, no questions asked. That's
nice.

Friday, January 22, 2010

We looked into his confidential records. Nothing is wrong.

Short story: a UFC champion gets sick in Manitoba. He goes to a hospital and is properly diagnosed, but not given a CT scan. He then hightails it to Bismarck, ND where he is treated and then admitted to the Mayo Clinic. He proceeds to refer to Canadian health care as third world. The CEO of the health authority objects, looks into his case, and tries to correct the record for the press. This is all well and good. 

But, shouldn't the CEO of a health authority be a little reluctant to admit that "We have checked this particular health record and were are quite confident that the correct diagnosis was given and the best course of treatment offered"? Can't even a blowhard expect some degree of privacy for his medical records? 

The complete Globe story is here


Thursday, January 21, 2010

Tories plunge in the polls... but what's the alternative?

There's been much made of the Tories' recent decline in the polls. By
most readings, they are more or less tied with the Liberals. This is,
most probably, attributable to their prorogation of Parliament. And
good on Canadians for punishing a Prime Minister who avoids the House.
But does this indicate that the Tories made a mistake? This appears to
be the consensus, both among Liberal politicians and media commentary.

I remain unconvinced, and it's for one reason. We simply don't know
how far down in the polls the Tories would have been had they remained
in the House, had a protracted fight over the release of documents,
and faced several more weeks of embarrassing questions on the handing
of detainees in Afghanistan. I am not convinced they'd be doing worse,
but it is possible.

The point is, unless you are certain that they would not have been
doing worse, then you're on shaky ground dismissing Stephen Harper for
finally overplaying his hand.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Shelly Glover doesn't know who Tom Flanagan is. I'd start with Wikipedia

I just looked up the wiki on Shelly Glover. She's an MP from Winnipeg. She should do the same for 'Tom Flanagan.' I mean, not only is he a nice guy and interested in my research, but he's also one of the preeminent conservative thinkers in Canada. Oh yeah, he was also Chief of Staff to Harper, manager of the 2004 campaign, and longtime gadfly and pundit. He also helped recruit Stephen Harper into politics and then recruit him back into politics. So, you know, he's more important than a lot of people.

Shelley Glover, if this video can be believed, doesn't know who he is.

One can only conclude two things about Shelley Glover. She's been completely unengaged in debates in her own movement for the last ten to twenty years (and hasn't even been told about them by her staff). Or she's disingenuous. Neither is very becoming.

Update: the full video is here.



Monday, January 11, 2010

Things you don't want to know about Air Canada

When Air Canada is creating a detailed list of the contents of your
bag for purposes of searching they will not record that you have a
phone in your bag. The reason? Because their ground staff can access
the list and cannot be trusted to not look for the bag with the
intention of stealing said phone. This inspires great confidence.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Michael Ignatieff in (my) classroom

The Star has a piece today on Ignatieff's university tour, which is set to begin this week. As it happens, he's going to be making two stops in Ontario, one at McMaster and one the University of Toronto-Mississauga. Mostly by virtue of the size of my class, it's subject matter, and it's timing, he'll be hosting his session in my class. This should be interesting, as members of the public join my 300 or so students to ask him questions for two hours. Regardless of your feelings on Ignatieff, it's a great opportunity for students to see and question a politician up close. And it's also good for our democracy to have our politicians talking openly with citizens. 

I'll report on how it goes, especially on the tough, great questions I am sure my students will pose!

Three songs I am digging

1.) Bob Dylan's "Shelter from the Storm" from the Rolling Thunder Review. That's T-Bone Burnett to Dylan's right. This version moves a long a lot harder than the earlier version, and includes some of my preferred verses. I am particularly found of: "I was burned out from exhaustion, buried in the hail/Poisoned in the bushes, and blown out on the trail/Hunted like a crocodile, ravaged by the corn/"Come in", she said, "I'll give you shelter from the storm." It always reminds me of blowing out my suspension on the road from Marsabit to Isiolo. We weren't hunted on that road, but as night fell we might as well have been. 
2.) Ron Hyne's "A Good Dog is Lost." Hines tells the story of seeing a lost dog poster in a store. The sign only reads "A good dog is lost." But, what it really says is that the owner cannot believe that a dog they so loved has run away. In the next stanza, he sings "somewhere out there night upon a darkened street, running breathless with a wild beating heart, in all directions on four tiny feet, calling 'Hey there stranger, I can hardly believe, someone that I love so much has forgotten about me." In the end, it's not really about a dog. 
3.) Jim Bryson's live version of "Somewhere Else." Listen to him turn up in the middle and end of the second line. It's incredibly well delivered and wistful. Bryson's an absolute treasure. 


Snow in Geneva

I am sitting at a coffeeshop at Geneva's airport. There was six inches of snow last night, so the airport is shut down. People are everywhere. Delays and cancellations are the order of the day. And yet, no one seems too fussed. It's very interesting to see. As for me, I'll be crossing my fingers that I get into Toronto seven hours later than expected. I've had to cancel a dinner for tonight, but things could be much, much worse. I could be a fish on someone's plate, or I could be someone who's never flown to Geneva. It's worth remembering, even if a single espressos cost 4 francs.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Plus that bottle of wine...

I suppose this is also the time I should note that someone in baggage handling stole a bottle of wine from a bag I checked with Air Canada in September. It was a gift from a friend that he asked I give my parents. It was not a cheap bottle by any means. I called lost baggage and sent an email. I heard nothing. I hope the schmuck enjoyed the bottle. 

sent by email

Geneva with no jacket

I have been in Geneva for the last three days. It's been quite a fun time. I was invited by the Swiss political science association to talk a bit about genopolitics. And I've been working with a great colleague on a new paper. On top of it all, Geneva has been charming the way European cities are in winter. Cars cannot deal with snow here, but the trains go on, everywhere there are people bundled against the snow, and the restaurants are still full of interesting people on the inside and (presumably interesting) smokers on the outside. 

The only drawback is that I have been bearing all of this without a coat. 

I put my winter jacket in my bag at Pearson. My bag never arrived in Geneva. I suspect it is still in Frankfurt, where I missed my connection and had to catch a plane four hours later.

I received some compensation at the airport, but it was only enough to buy a sweater and shirt and to pay for some of a new pair of jeans. I also bought a scarf and hat. I've avoided buying another jacket, because in the first place I feel that I can bare it in a blazer and, in the second, I really don't need to buy another winter coat. But three days have passed and I am starting to get worried. It's only made worse by the fact that one is given just a phone number with a tracking number that indicates whether the bg is found. There is no other news. 

I think there's a lesson for airlines in this. We remember our losses much more starkly than we remember our gains. I've had a great string of positive experiences with Air Canada recently, e.g. the upgrade to business class I have received on my last four flights. But this is quickly forgotten when their partners cannot adequately handle the transfer of bags. The worry I feel about having to replace clothes and a suitcase that I quite like far outweigh the positive affect of upgrades.  

In the meantime, I am enjoying Geneva, if not the cold. 


posted by email

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Shutting down Parliament

Will the Prime Minister prorogue Parliament today? Inside opinion suggests that he will, though the Star is taking an inquisitive approach in its reporting.

The wiki provides a nice summary of what is prorogation. If you click through, you'll note that prorogation normally occurs at the end of a legislative session. In other words, governments normally prorogue when they've ended their legislative agenda but there is still sitting time left on the calendar. Not in Canada, apparently. Instead, we have a prime minister (potentially) asking the GG to prorogue Parliament for a second time in a year, despite a full legislative calendar and apparently very important unfinished legislative initiatives (i.e. their crime package).

The government will also avoid questions on Afghan detainee transfers, which are currently being examined in committee.

I tend not to get too worked up over constitutional conventions. I think they are guidelines until they're not, and I think they rarely describe actual political behaviour with much precision. On the contrary, I take a rather liberal view of democracy in which voters decide what is appropriate at election time. But this is getting ridiculous. The government has twice in a year stated that they are uninterested in trying to govern in our elected house. I am sorry if it's an inconvenience, but it's where the business of our democracy occurs. Coyne goes a few steps farther and more provocative than me, but not that many. He's worth reading here.

Update/Question: Does Stephen Taylor even know what a prorogation is for? It's not to allow committees to be reset. I think that's his justification, though he doesn't say it all that clearly. It's for a PM to end a legislative session early after its business has been finished. Second, perhaps Stephen Taylor could spend a day in an Afghan jail before he makes fun of the treatment innocent people there may have faced.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Flying to the US just got worse. Again.

Thanks to a failed terrorist attack, flying to America just got a lot worse. Apparently, one has to arrive three hours before a flight. You'll no longer be allowed to access your carry-on baggage for the last hour of the flight, or to leave your seat. More, you won't be able to hold anything in your lap for that last hour. I presume that extends to dangerous items like pens and paper. Oh, one more thing, someone is going to comb through your bag at the gate. After they've done it at the first clearance area. This is a terrible policy for many reasons.

First, what is so special about the last hour of a flight? Why won't a terrorist then initiate an attack with 70 minutes to go? Second, if you've already looked through my bag then what can I hold in my lap that is a threat? Third, and this is the most important thing, do you think that having bags checked twice makes it more likely to find contraband? You may think yes, but there's a good reason to think it will make us less safe.

If you are a security official looking through a bag and you know that someone else is going to look through the bag again, do you think you will be more or less thorough? At first blush, you're likely more thorough, but imagine that you are facing a large line of passengers and your superiors have encouraged you to get people through the line quickly. In this likely circumstance, you may trust that the other individual checking bags will find any contraband. But what if they assume the same thing and they do a less than thorough job? Do you think we're more or less safe in this circumstance.

Flying is not dangerous. Hijackings are extremely rare. It's time to accept the risk.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Are Canadian philosophy PhDs discriminated against?

This article won't tell you.

This is incredibly simple and shoddy inference. Groarke and Fenske note that seven-in-ten faculty in (English) Canadian philosophy departments have PhDs from outside of Canada. Of the third that have Canadian PhDs, half are from the UofT. They find that this holds more or less across the country.

From these findings, they infer that there is discrimination against Canadian PhDs. Their inference is unsupported by their data.
Suppose I conducted a study, and I told you the following:

A recent study of hiring by the federal government across all departments for all positions outside of the capital region found that only .1% of hires had a degree from University XYZ. Clearly, this points towards discrimination against graduates of University XYZ. In the words of Groarke and Fenske, they're "educationally handicapped."

Now, what if I told you that University XYZ was the University of Prince Edward Island or Université de Ste-Anne? Given that these universities probably account for .1% of graduates, you'd rightly infer that I was making poor inferences. And you'd be correct.

Groarke and Fenske are doing exactly the same thing. They don't know or do not present data on what percentage of philosophy PhDs are produced by Canadian schools each year. Despite not knowing this, they provide explanations, proffer advice to other philosophers on matters of morality, and make policy recommendations. And they do so without the simplest of convincing evidence. Let's be clear: Groarke and Fenske accuse their colleagues of discrimination and malfeasance without the simplest of credible evidence.

I trust that this kind of inference isn't representative of Canadian philosophers, but if it is then any problems in hiring aren't due to discrimination.