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.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Rain King Returns

Michael Schumacher is returning to F1 Racing. The return of the Loewen men to Montreal is now all but assured.

I've said it before and I expect this season to prove it true: Michael Schumacher might be the greatest individual sportsman in history.

I shall be taking bets on his return to the end-of-season top spot.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Lee Sigelman

Lee Sigelman, one of political science's great citizens, has died. Sigelman's career was, from my standpoint, most impressive.

Sigelman edited various journals in his career, most notably our discipline's flagship, the American Political Science Review.

More recently, he started the Monkey Cage with colleagues at George Washington University. It's a daily stop for me and it's enriched my life.

Finally, Sigelman was an incredibly productive and eclectic scholar. John Sides makes this clear in this latest post.

This is a real loss for our discipline. For those who are confronted most starkly by his loss -- his friends and his family -- take consolation in the admiration of those who know only his work.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Mounties, tasers, and the truth

Paul Kennedy has released his report on the death of Robert Dziekanski. As Andrew Potter puts it, he found that the Mounties lied. Repeatedly. But this should not be surprising. As individuals and as an institution, the RCMP has lied on matters great and small for years. To quote Potter:

And why wouldn’t they? The RCMP lies about everything. They lied about APEC. They lied about the name a six-year-old gave to a puppy in a contest. And they lied over and over again to Paul Kennedy.

Remember this: our national police force is one that, if you you were in a state of delirium and confusion in a foreign land, would presume the first thing to do is electrocute you. Not tase you, to use that awful non-verb. They would run current through your body before they tried to calm you, before they tried to ascertain the nature of your problem, and before they considered whether you were really a threat. Our national police force is scared of staplers.

And remember this: after killing you, they'd do the disservice of traveling to your home country to sniff around to see if you have a criminal past. Apparently, RCMP officers can smell a criminal. No need for due process here.

Remember this also: if one of the same ran you down in his car drunk he'd make up a story about leaving the scene of the accident to have two shots of vodka before returning. And he'd get away with it, save for a charge of obstructing justice.

This is too much for a civilized society to take. This is not about whether you know a police officer who is a good person and a kind father. You likely do, as I certainly do. It's not about whether police officers are good most of the time. It's about whether it's appropriate for them to behave as they have when they are at their worst. They ought not. Gary Mason is right. It's time to put an end to this.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Dear United Airlines

When you make me pay for the internet in the SFO lounge, I feel like you don't value me as a customer. When you try to get me to pay for it in SAN where there's free internet throughout the airport it makes me think you think I am stupid. Please stop being soulless schmucks. Ok, thanks.