Tuesday, February 27, 2007

On compelled testimony and preventative arrests

I have to admit, I am actually baffled as to who is right in today's debate over two controversial provisions of Canadian anti-terrorism legislation. On the one hand, the Conservatives are claiming that the ability to compel testimony and perform preventative arrests is crucial in the prevention of terrorism. On the other hand, the Liberals are saying that these provisions endanger civil liberties. But they've never once been used in the five years they've been on the books in Canada. So both positions seem a little empty to me. I am open to comments, but I'd like to hear especially why we should keep/repeal a law which doesn't seem to do any harm or any good.

Of Yellow Knives and Kicking Horses

Two Friday's ago I had a great birthday party. Early the next morning I headed out on a flight to Calgary. It was too early and clearly wasn't booked with much foresight. I was heading to Yellowknife to hang out with some old friends. I arrived later than expected on account of a missed connection in Calgary.

With the illustrious Loren

I spent three days there, and did the whole circuit - the Gold Range, Bullock's (where I had the best fish of my life), and some hiking on a lake. The political scientist in my couldn't pass up on a visit to the Legislature, which to my knowledge is the only non-partisan Westminster system in the world. It's arguable if it functions well, but it sure is interesting.

On Tuesday I flew to Calgary and travelled to Kicking Horse to ski with some old and new friends. In all, it was a good enough week to forget about all the troubles of getting older. Now I am back to work and the new troubles of executing an experiment. But I shan't complain; I could be a fish on someone's plate or some other fate.

Monday, February 12, 2007

The Logic of Political Survival

Among the great books recently written in political science, Bueno de Mesquita et al's The Logic of Political Survival must make the list. It basically tackles a fundamental question of political science: why is it that bad governments (particularly undemocratic ones) can survive for so long? To make the long story short, they argue that governments with medium-sized selectorates (which is a generalization of electorates to include non-democratic selection processes) are able to survive by enriching their selectorates at the cost of the larger public. This works best for selectorates which aren't too small, because when they are too small it's easier for someone else to put together an opposing and winning coalition (think of military coups). And in selectorates which are too large it becomes more efficient to allocate goods on more fair grounds. In medium-sized selectorates a bad leader can stay in power for a long time. For the case of Zimbabwe, that seems to be what this article is demonstrating.

Mugabe is basically allowing his presidential guard to thoroughly pillage Zimbabwe by taking advantage of things only available to those in the selectorate: favourable and contrived exchange rates on US dollars, cheap gasoline, and (until recently) productive and well-kept farms. This hardly proves Bueno de Mesquita et al's argument (indeed, it is open to some real criticism). But it does a nice job of illustrating it.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Garth Turner and a by-election

As most know, Garth Turner joined the Liberal caucus yesterday. No complaints from me on that. I think MPs are free to sit in whatever caucus they please and whenever they want. And I don't think that they should have to run in by-elections to do it.

That said, Turner's position is too cute by half. After taking Emerson out to the Blogshed in January for not running in a byelection after he joined the Tory caucus, he now says that he'd be willing to run in a byelection in Halton if Stephen Harper called it. But obviously Stephen Harper can't call it, as Turner has not resigned. Now, Turner claims that were he to resign he doesn't trust that Harper would call a prompt byelection (it can effectively be delayed for a year) . And that's fair enough. It's Harper's prerogative and I am not sure I would call one either. But that is totally beside the point that Turner could at least hold up his end of the bargain: he could resign and put Harper's feet to the fire to call the byelection. But he is unwilling. And by his standards do you know what that makes him? It makes him just another heart-breaking politician. And to think that a lot of us thought this guy was different.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

From this morning's Chronicle-Herald

Don't kill yourself about makin' it
Be takin' it easy, but be takin' it
There's enough out there who are fakin' it
Don't let 'em take the joy that you make on your own

- Old Man Luedecke