Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Why Maclean's is wrong. . . . .

A lot of people have been talking about the rather tasteless article in Maclean's Magazine which claims that Quebec is the most 'corrupt' province in Canada. Now keep in mind, if you haven't seen the edition, that this isn't some small article hidden inside the magazine. Rather, a headline in big letters graces the cover which says "The Most Corrupt Province in Canada" with an accompanying picture of the Quebec Winter Carnival's Bonhomme Mascot carrying a briefcase stuffed with money.

Yesterday I heard one of Ottawa's right-wing radio hosts on CFRA defending the article by posing the question "Well if the author of the article proved with appropriate methodology that Quebec was, in fact, the most 'corrupt' province, what you do expect Maclean's magazine to do?" This is a typical ridiculous right-wing response to such a tasteless and divisive media move. Now besides the many obvious value judgements involved in such a claim of corruption and the difficulty of reducing such a judgement to any real empirical standard, this question also raises important questions of journalistic responsibility. My question to the right-wing radio host is this; If we could prove that, say, Canadians of African descent committed more crimes than any other identifiable group, would Maclean's run an cover article of a Black man holding a gun with an accompanying headline "The Most Criminal Race in Canada" ?? Of course they wouldn't (though I am sure that some people wouldn't put it past them). Because everyone knows that how you present something is just as important as the content of that which you are presenting. Maclean's is a sensationalistic, mindless, irresponsible periodical and the presentation of this article demonstrates this very point. I hope that the Province of Quebec sues Maclean's if for no other reason than to simply bring attention to their consistent irresponsibility.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Ezra Levant's mindless drivel. . . . .

Today Mr. Ezra Levant wrote another in a long line of rather sad and pathetic articles for the Sun Newspaper chain. Like most of Mr. Levant's articles it was a combination of misunderstanding rooted in his ideological blindness and intentional misrepresentations rooted in his ridiculous politics. I don't usually comment on Mr. Levant's work because it is largely beneath contempt but today's article is a good example of the general misrepresentations that are being bandied about in the media and on the internet.

In this particular article Mr. Levant is talking about the so-called Tea Party movement and certain signs that he believes are indicative of the same kind of movement in Canada. Chef among these is the popularity of Robert Ford in the Mayoral race in Toronto. Most outrageously Mr. Levant claims that the so-called Tea Party movement is a "democratic backlash" against what he uncharacteristically calls a "ruling class." The problem, of course, is that it is neither of these. The fact is that despite the apparent 'grassroots' nature of the Tea Party movement, it is, like many populist movements, being led and bankrolled by significant parts of the very "ruling class" that it claims to oppose. Thousands of average people may show up at Tea Party rallies in the US but these rallies are largely organized and financed by rich and powerful people like Glen Beck and Sarah Palin (both of whom are millionaires). This is not unlike John Baird complaining about "Toronto Elites" at a stump-speech and then getting back into this chauffer driven limo and taking the news back to his rich leader who was born in Toronto, has a Masters degree, and hasn't been in a supermarket for decades. In the US there are quite a few Republican Senators who consider themselves part of the Tea Party movement and since it takes more than 50 million dollars to run for the US Senate, I would hardly call any members of this most elite of clubs, an average Joe. Furthermore, the so-called Tea Party movement (whether the official one in the US or the supposed offshoots of it in Canada), is nothing like a "democratic backlash." People like Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin, as well as their allies in Congress, are fully committed no legal limits on corporate donations for those running for office. Their agenda is really about the massive increases in Corporate power in society and influence at the political level. If this were really a "democratic backlash" it would be a movement to reduce the role that money plays in the political process. Furthermore, if we look at Ezra Levant's political masters in Canada we can see clearly that there is no democratic backlash. Just today our government (the one that Mr. Levant almost blindly supports) is making it clear that it will once again ignore the democratic will of the House and fail to reinstate the Long-form Census. It doesn't really matter where you come down on the issue of the Census, but if you support a government that continually ignores the will of the House, or prorogues Parliament in order to stay in power, it is clear that you are not interested in any kind of "democratic" anything.

Like most populist movements, the Tea Party movement is largely a sham. Far from being a "democratic backlash," it is simply another right-wing movement that is wrapping itself in the flag and using the jargon of democracy in order to further a corporatist political agenda and a Puritan ideology. It always amazes me that right-wingers like Ezra Levant call people on the left-wing naive and yet they fail in almost every case to apply the 'real-politik' standards that they claim motivate their analysis.

And as for the question of Robert Ford in the mayoral race in Toronto, calling his popularity part of a democratic backlash is laughable. That is the same as claiming that when Jim Watson wins the mayoral race in Ottawa against the right-wing O'brian, it is a sign that people's faith in political elites is growing. The Robert Ford phenomenon is multi-faceted but the population waking up to the power of a ruling-class or people's desire for real democracy are not part of this process. If Robert Ford does actually win the mayoral race I believe it will largely be a result of the fact that there is NO democratic backlash and a huge number of people have lost faith in the political process so a racist Neanderthal like Ford can win with that portion of the population that would like to take us back to the 'good old days' when children worked in factories.

I for one would love to see an actual 'democratic backlash' because I believe that if we did, the political agenda of men like Ezra Levant would sink back into the primordial ooze from whence it came. If we took the money out of the political process, if we truly democratized the media and the workplace, if we had some form of PR, the right-wing agenda would whither and die in no time. At least seventy percent of registered voters oppose Harper and his government, and I bet that number is much higher in the whole population. If society took a radically democratic twist Harper (and Mr. Levant) would be pushed so far into the political wilderness that they would hardly qualify as part of the fringe.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Ed Milliband takes the Reins of the Labour Party. . . . .

It is very interesting that Ed Milliband has become the new leader of the Labour Party in Briton. It is even more interesting that he won this position while running against his own brother David Milliband. Now that must make for some interesting family dinners! The Milliband brothers are the sons of the late Ralph Milliband, one of the premiere Marxists theorists of 20th century England. Ralph Milliband left the Labour party long before he died in 1994 because he had little faith in the Parliamentary path to socialism. He was said to be very uncomfortable with his sons' involvement in the Labour Party particularly in his last days, just before Tony Blair took the reins of the party. Their mother, however, another left-wing activist named Marion Kozack was less reticent about the changes in the Labour Party and continued her affiliation with the Party. Understandably, people say that her sons take more after her politically than they do after their father. However, it should also be noted that Ed Milliband, who will now shape the futre of the Labour Party, is said to be more of a 'traditional' Labour supporter than his brother David, but only time will tell concerning this question.

I have a great deal of respect for Ralph Milliband, though I would not really call myself a Marxist. Anyway, I don't really believe that Marxism is a political theory, but rather a philosophical and historical one. (But we will leave that discussion for another time) Socialism is, on the other hand, a political theory, and one that I, in my own particular fashion, adhere to. But I also believe, as many Labour Party activists have argued, that one could potentially be a Capitalist of sorts and still be a Socialist. One could believe, for example, that the so-called market works in certain areas of society but not in others such as education and health. This idea points to the struggle between evolutionary socialsim as an idea and the idea presented by Marxists theorist like Ralph Milliband, that Capitalism as system of social, political, and economic organization will continually push out any chance for real socialist efforts even on a limited scale. Wherever one comes down on this debate it will be interesting to see in what direction Ed Milliband will take the Labour Party and whether he will confirm his father's belief that you can't build any kind of socialism through parliamentary politics, or whether he will make an effort to re-legitimize socialist efforts within the purview of the Labour Party.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Reject the Ugly side of politics. . . . .

Taking a brief survey of our politics today I really have to wonder how we have found ourselves here. In a time when it is not acceptable by most people to be openly racist, overtly sexist, or chauvinistic against gay and bisexual people, how is it that it seems perfectly acceptable with so many people for our politicians and political discourse to be full of lies, intentional misrepresentations, vulgarity, hostility, and strategic self-interest? Everyday you hear people talk about how tired they are of political leaders who are negative and self-serving but they keep voting for them and the most vulgar and hostile of them retain their popularity. Meanwhile, any politician who attempts to promote discourse or compromise is constantly vilified, particularly by the right-wing. As any reader of my blog (all two of you) knows I have never been a big fan of Jack Layton, but I will give him his due, he continually attempts to foster discussion and is willing to make compromises. A cynic will say that this is only because he has no chance of gaining power. But I refuse to be that cynical because there have been leaders in the past who were in fact compromisers and didn't use constant lies and vulgarity just to gain and retain power regardless of the results. The present government is certainly one of the worst offenders on this front and for the life of me I can't figure out why their supporters let them lie, misrepresent the facts, intentionally try to divide the public, be openly vulgar and hostile. And yet they would condemn this behaviour if a party they didn't support were in government. And look at the narrative that the Tories are attempting to create on any potential coalition. "Cooperation is bad, compromise is bad, rule by the majority is bad." This is the narrative. And they are pursuing this narrative with an almost embarrassing vehemence, as the speech by the Finance minister demonstrated this week. I think it is time to finally make the vulgarity, lying, naked self-serving politics unacceptable. I won't hold my breath in anticipation of this change but the time has come.

To Hell with Democracy. . . .

Now that the gun-registry vote has taken place I feel the need to say a few words about the whole affair. I, and I think many people, found a number of things disturbing in the whole process.

Firstly, I found the tone of the debate very troubling. The vitriolic, often angry, sometimes paranoid level of discourse (and it hardly qualifies for such a dignified word) on the part of those who object to the registry was odd, one might even say worrying. On the other hand, I understand why some of those who lost loved ones to guns might be very emotional and heated; rightly or wrongly many of them believe the registry saves lives like the ones they have lost and they are bound to become heated during the course of the debate. However, in a society where we are so accustomed to getting licenses and registering things, I certainly have trouble understanding the level of vitriolic and emotional objections that most anti-gun registry advocates demonstrated. I was constantly reminded of the Shakespeare quote "Methinks they do protest too much." And I have yet to hear a single good argument of why such a simple thing is so vile. But the nature of the debate got even uglier after the vote took place. Conservative spokespeople and bloggers called it a sham, a fraud, and I even read one blogger who called it a coup! Well Conservatives might call it a coup when the majority of representatives of the majority of the population vote in a certain way, but the rest of us call it democracy. And talk by the PM of "refusing" to accept the vote is genuinely frightening because it undermines the very principles of democracy. Furthermore, talk of Toronto "elites" by people who have 200 thousand dollar salaries and chauffeurs, is not only laughably ironic but does nothing but divide the country in ways that ultimate harms the whole nation.

Secondly, I was troubled by the underlying nature of the debate. Neo-Conservatism has been very successful in convincing people that everything in the realm of public policy must be quantifiable and have measurable and immediate results. This is, as I have said before, the colonization of normative debate by technical-rational discourse which the philosophers of the Frankfort School warned of several generations ago. The truth is that much law and public policy does not, and has never, worked this way. Take an issue like the anti-segregation movement that happened largely under the presidency of LBJ. The moves to integrate African-American children in all white schools was not public policy that had directly measurable results. In fact in many cases it actually inflamed racial tensions for some time rather than helping the overall race relations. But one of its intended goals was to change the way people reacted to the issue of race, to contributed to a change in what people considered acceptable or appropriate behaviour. Many types of public policy works precisely this way. And normative discourse should always take this kind of thing into account. Individual gun laws in themselves have very limited results in the quantifiable sense, rather they are intended to shift the way that people react to guns and gun ownership. Just like forced integration didn't suddenly make racists into nice tolerant people; rather, it helped to create an atmosphere in which younger people growing up were less likely to find racism acceptable.

Thirdly, I was very disturbed by the American nature of many of the anit-gun registry arguments. For example, the primary argument against registering guns has been that such a program is wasteful and doesn't actually have any effect. Now, the fact is that once the money has been spent to establish the registry(and it has) it is not particularly expensive to run. In fact, in relation to much of the country's policing costs, it is relatively cheap. But more importantly is the claim that registering guns doesn't do anything. The implication of this argument is that we should not register hand-guns either, this is very clear and it points to a huge hypocrisy on the part of Harper and gun-registry detractors. Why don't we hear them out there saying "I shouldn't I have to register my handgun?" If they believe that registering long-guns does nothing, then the same applies for handguns. But the Tories know it would be political suicide to make this argument. This is how we know that the whole argument on the part of Harper and his Cohorts is entirely disingenuous. The other American-style part of the argument is this idea that making people register guns is tantamount to "treating them like criminals." The NRA commonly makes this argument and it is bizarre and non-sensical, and only made in order to stir people's emotions. The fact is that no one "feels like a criminal" when they register their car. However, part of the reason that they register cars is to ensure that people registering them are not in fact violating the law in some manner. Furthermore, I don't hear throngs of right-wingers complaining that when they are searched to get on an airplane they are treated like criminals. Again this demonstrates the disingenuousness of the anti-gun registry arguments. But more than this is demonstrates a creeping Americanization of politics in which people throw around emotional and deeply divisive arguments solely to sway public opinion.

All of these things are troubling and speak to the various ways in which Harper's poisonous attitude is eroding democracy in this country and undermine genuine political discourse.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Tories begin to Crumble. . . . .

Now that the Conservatives has lost their bid to kill the gun-registry, I see quite a few bloggers claiming that Mr. Harper is probably happy about the loss because he can continue to use the issue in the next election. I believe that this really is assaulting a deceased equine because as far as I can make out he has a lot more votes to lose on the issue than he has to win. A majority of Canadians support the registry, particularly in Quebec where the Conservatives stand to lose all of their seats. And I predict that by the time of the next election even more people will be in favor of the registry because once the House had ruled on an issue in such a public fashion people tend to just want to put the issue behind them. And even more significantly if Harper continues to harp (no pun intended) on the issue it will further alienate people and cause them to see him as a spiteful wacko. A number of recent events (not least of which is the Finance Minister's troubling rant that boarded on psychotic in nature) has begun to turn people away from the Harper Conservatives and realize that regardless of one's politics these guys are giving democracy (and even Conservatism) a bad name with their poisonous nasty approach to almost everything. I predict that their will be a powerful backlash against such a political attitude and people will begin to look for a more civil politics and a more conscientious group of leaders. It will take time but I believe it is happening and the Conservatives are in a state of absolute panic about it, as Flaherty's rant demonstrates.

Finally, the registry comes before the House, a summation . . . .

Well the gun-registry vote is finally here. And though I obviously tended in favor of the gun registry from the beginning, I have tried to look at all the arguments and listen carefully. On the pro gun-registry side I listened to  many testimonials from police and victims of domestic violence who claimed that the gun-registry has saved lives. I would call this approach a 'strong' argument; not because it is necessarily true but I use it in the more philosophical sense that it makes 'positive' claims rather than negative ones and because even if the claims are true in only a few cases among the many then this is very significant. On the anti-gun-registry side I have heard essentially only one coherent argument, to wit; that it is a costly waste of resources and had no measurable effect. I call this a 'weak' argument; again in the philosophical sense in as much as it makes a 'negative' claim. (I have, of course, heard a number of people make pseudo-NRA arguments about the government secretly wanting to take everyone's guns in the dead of night but I don't believe these arguments qualify as meaningful and largely belong to the aluminum-foil hat crowd.) The essential problem with the 'resources' argument, as far as I can see, is that the gun-registry operating cost is relatively small in relation to other programs (a single murder investigation can cost more than the entire annual cost of operating the gun-registry) and in relation to overall government expenditure. And if only one of the many testimonials from police or victims of domestic violence is true, this outweighs, in my mind, the relatively small cost. Now another problem with many of the anti-gun registry arguments out there is that a lot of the people who say it is a waste of resources also make the argument that it 'criminalizes' law-abiding citizens and that all the criminals who own guns are not going to register anyway. Americans will be familiar with this type of argument in the form of the adage "when guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns." The problem with these NRA style arguments is that they can be applied to any and all guns. Thus the logical conclusion of this argument is that we should not have any gun-registry program, and arguably no gun laws at all, because if it applies to long-guns why shouldn't these people apply it to hand-guns. And the answer, of course, is not a logical one but an ideological one. Harper and the Conservatives know that this is the logical conclusion of this argument that I have heard many MPs make, but they would never publicly advocate for the end of all gun laws because they know it would be political suicide.

Now in philosophical terms "weak" arguments are usually easier to make because they require a lower standard of evidence and therefor are just more simple and straightforward. The problems here are that, as I tried to show (albeit very briefly), the implications of the "weak" arguments are troubling and potentially dangerous. Furthermore, accepting the weak argument could potentially cost lives in exchange for relatively small financial savings. On the other hand, the worst we can say in relation to accepting the "strong" argument here is that it will cost a very small fraction of overall policing costs and that a few people will be inconvenienced. However, the best we can hope for in accepting the strong argument is that numerous lives will be saved. It seems very clear to me that simple rational discourse favours the continuation of the gun-registry while the vote to kill it fails very straightforward rational tests.

Let me make it more clear in point form

Arguments Against
-waste of resources
-inconvenience to those who must register
-registering guns only targets law-abiding citizens, criminals won't register

Potential downside (and implications) of these arguments
-lives could be unnecessarily lost
-no gun law (at least registration laws) are effective or make a difference

Potential upside of these arguments
-the government will save a few dollars
-gun owners will not be inconvenienced

Arguments for
-lives have been (and will continue to be) saved

Potential downside of the arguments for
-it has cost (and will continue to cost) money
-a few gun-owners will be inconvenienced

Potential upside of these arguments
-lives will be saved

I think the rational argument is pretty clear. Of course, rationality is by no means the only test of normative claims, but it is the one that most people claim is most important in relation to such a bill. On the other hand, this Conservative government has demonstrated time and again that it is not interested in any kind of rational discourse or evidence.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Harpocrisy continues. . . . .

Like many people, I am tired of the entire long-gun registry debate. But above all, I am getting really tired of the Conservative hypocrisy on this issue. It is shameless hypocrisy for any of the Conservatives to complain about the opposition parties on this issue, particularly to target the NDP which is theoretically following tradition in allowing a free vote on the issue, which is a lot more than can be said than the Government. Over and over again the Conservatives have been telling people that this vote is about representing the desires of constituents. Well, if one buys this argument than many Conservative MPs should be voting to keep the registry.  But they won't because each and every Conservative MP know that this is not really a Private Member's Bill. Furthermore, given the Conservative's continual harping on the issue of representation and the desires of constituents, it is outrageous for them to criticize Peter Stoffer for changing his vote when he is changing it based upon what his constituents want. Candice Hoeppner taken  Hypocrisy to the level of an art form is pretending that this is really her bill when everyone in the country knows that it is Harper's bill. Yes, the Conservatives love to talk about 'what the people want' unless what they want is contrary to Conservative policy, in which case they couldn't care less. Seventy percent of Canadians are against the Conservatives, if they really believed in what the people want they would refuse to even form government. They are corrupt, incompetent, reckless spending, racist, hypocritical liars. It is time to put an end to this government and for the people to take back their country.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Why the Conservatives like crime. . . . .

A brief glance at the academic literature concerning the Inquisition in Europe demonstrates a rather remarkable tendency. It becomes clear as one learns of the events of the several hundred years in which  the Church used the institution of the Inquisition, that it used the existence of 'heresy' to extend and entrench its power across Europe. The Inquisition was not simply reacting to the presence of genuine so-called heretics, but actually encouraged the exposure of heretical people or groups regardless of whether they were real or posed any significant threat to the power of the Church. Where no hertics existed Church members were eager to fabricate their existence or falsely accuse someone of sacrilege in order to further establish the power of the Church as a forceful social and political institution. Beside actual occasions of false accusations, the Church came to depend on the existence of Heretics in order to justify its iron-handed control.

The idea of the Church talking about heretical threats where none really existed reminded me of something we saw here in Canada recently, to wit: Stockwell Day's hullucinatory rantings about unreported crimes and imaginary criminals for whom we need to spend billions on new prisons. The fact is that the Conservative party has come to rely on crime to do two specific things. First, talk of out of control crime-rates furthers the conservative agenda through the spread of fear and the promotion of the idea that only their heavy-handed 'tough on crime' approach will save us from total chaos. Second, the existence of high rates of crime contributes to the conservative narrative of the "natural" legitimacy of capitalist relations. This is a more complicated notion but a very real one. Capitalist ideology has long depended on the notion that many people are inherently bad and that people at large are inherently selfish or self interested. These ideas are very explicitly expressed in early modern conservative and capitalist literature from Adam Smith and Edmund Burke to the more extreme Thomas Malthus. Besides advocating a capitalist order as the only possible response to an inherently self-interested population, capitalist ideology has depended upon certain kinds of consistently selfish or even criminal behaviour to justify its underlying world-view. In other words, if liberal (and I use that term intentionally with a small 'l') ideologists can demonstrate that the under certain social conditions of prosperity, education, and rehabilitation, crime rates can go progressively down, the most basic aspects of capitalist and conservative ideology are under threat. It does this by showing that people are not necessarily inherently selfish or criminal but are malleable, and can change their behaviour in very significant ways according to the context in which they are raised and live. This is one of the reasons that one can detect among the Conservatives a state of near panic when the media reports that over the past thirty years crime rates have gone down. If this is true, not only will the Conservatives have trouble selling their agenda through fear, but an important part of their actual world-view is threatened. If a government run justice system that includes a strict adherence to basic rights, relatively liberal sentencing, genuine rehabilitation programs, etc, can work and actually bring down crime rates, one can see how, at a very basic level, Conservative ideology is threatened. It means not only are people partly a product of their environment, but that government institutions are not inherently useless and inefficient. And if these two claims are true than we are getting dangerously close to the idea that our species can perhaps evolve and a mixed economy with some genuinely social efforts can bring about real prosperity and increasing levels of social harmony.

In other words, Conservatives are desperate to hold on to their narrative of a world full of inherently bad people and ever-increasing crime rates. And if this idea is not reflected in the world they are happy to fabricate it. Just as the Church depended on the existence of 'heresy,' conservatives necessarily have to harbor a secret hope that crime will continue and even get worse so that their agenda continues and their ideology stays in tact.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Bellicose Baird and Pathetic Poilievre . . . . .

Yesterday I mused on what narrative the Conservatives would attempt to spin now that most of their regular ammunition has been spent and found wanting.

Just a quick update.

John Baird gave us a big clue today in his press conference to talk about the up-coming session of parliament. Since their tough on crime agenda seemed to be losing steam it seems that 'terrorism' and human-smuggling will be their new scare tactic for worrying the Canadian people. Instand narrative; just add vague, nondescript people out there somewhere trying to do us harm. And, of course, for good measure subtly demonize some third-world group of people (in this case the Tamils).

The other narrative of which we saw the beginning of today was voiced when Baird referred to their opponents as the "Toronto elite."  This is an extension of Pathetic Poilievre's talk the other day of 'Liberal Conspiracy theories.' These guys must sit around a table and brainstorm ideas which they think will manipulate the electorate with shameless and inflammatory gutter-talk. I think the Liberals should stop referring to the Harper regime as a Government and just call it a dictatorship in all of their public documents and speeches. Just do it seamlessly, don't talk about it, just call it a dictatorship until it slips into people's consciousness. And when the media asks about this label, don't answer the question, just deflect and talk about the government's shortcomings and anti-democratic tendencies. By all accounts the strategy would work and would actually be closer to fact than the "Toronto Elite" epithet.

(By the way was anyone as amused as I to hear Poilievre condemn Ignatieff for using 'negative' politics which 'he must have learned in the United States when he lived there' ??? Really?? Pathetic Poilievre is going to accuse other people of negative politics, American Style? This is like Attila the Hun accusing his enemies of being too rough! That is rich.)

Michelle Rhee and education reform . . . . .

Well I am very glad to say that Washington DC mayor Adrian Fenty lost his bid to serve another term and as a result School Chancellor Michelle Rhee will also lose her job. Now normally I wouldn't relish seeing a fairly progressive mayor and democrat, as mayor Fenty is, lose his office. However, the actions of his Chancellor Rhee were so disturbing to me that I must cheer this loss regardless of Mr. Fenty's generally perceived political leanings.

For those unfamiliar with these events, Michelle Rhee is one of those people who came into the Chancellorship of the School board with the intention of "cleaning-up" the situation and making heads roll. She was fond of saying that DC children were getting a "crappy" education and portraying herself as the solution to this problem.

Now normally I like the idea of making some reforms in education and believe that, at least in the upper grades, public education in many North American school systems is abhorrant and little more than baby-sitting. However, I was not impressed with Ms. Rhee's solutions to this problem. Like so many so-called reformers Ms. Rhee targeted the teachers and their union as the problem with education. She managed to bribe the teachers out of tenure with a large pay increase and then promptly fired 250 teachers with no explanation in most cases except with the claim that they didn't conform to her standards. In other words, Ms. Rhee took the attitude that individual teachers were at the heart of the problem. This is like blaming foot soldiers for losing the battle.

Like so many contemporary "reformers" Ms. Rhee was keen to create standardization and measurability into every aspect of the education system. This is part of a corporatization of education and society in general and a colonization by technical thought in areas where such thought simply doesn't belong. Not everything is measurable despite the desires of a new generation of neo-conservative thinkers. And the idea of 'rating' teachers by some standardized process is fraught with political and social dangers that will ultimately undermine the whole notion of education. But neo-conservative ideologists are not actually interested in education, they are interested in job-training and seek to reduce the entire system of education to a large job-training program that spits out obedient little drones with a minimum of general knowledge but specific skills that will please employers. Despite all their talk of better education, what is really going on here is a race to the bottom of the international capitalist barrel in which economies are little more than mechanisms of capital generation by large corporations. Job-training attitudes toward education create populations that are entirely incapable of the innovation and creativity necessary to go forward into a better future. Rather, such a strategy can only hope to prepare people to take advantage of the market to amass capital.

If we really want to improve education, and make our schools more than just job-training houses for low paying and unfulfilling employment, then we don't need standardized testing or teacher merit scales. These efforts do little more than determine who is good at testing and which teachers are smart enough to create the illusion that their students are learning. What we really need to do is improve the education of teachers themselves, improve the institutions of teacher colleges and empower teachers themselves to be able to create an atmosphere of excitement in learning, cooperation among students, and education plans tailor made to fit the particular students and classes. Instead, educators like Ms. Rhee disempower teachers, reduce them to little more than skills trainers, and create a disenchanted group of educators who feel that they can do little more than cram children's heads with small snippets of standardized information for particular exams, information that is quickly lost anyway.

Creativity and innovation are not measurable properties. Short-term results testing tell us little about the long-term value of wide-ranging generalized education among the population. Social values can not be reduced quantification.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Teneyck resigns from Government. . . I mean from Quebecor

Wow, when I heard this story on the radio I had to stop and do a quick blog about it. So a day after Clayton Ruby asks the police to investigate the fraud committed by an Ottawa based IP address against Avaaz online petition,Kory Teneycke suddenly reigns. And of course the story is made more interesting by the fact that the offensive and vitriolic Teneycke seems to have had inside information on the fraud and was writing an editorial for the Sun about it precisely as it was happening.

However, the story now takes on a whole new dimension when we consider that Mr. Teneycke made his resignation on Parliament Hill with Senior Government advisors by his side!!!???

We can conclude at the very least by all this that the Harper government was much more involved in the effort to create a so-called "Fox News North" than anyone was admitting. Since when does a vice president of a private corporation resign on Parliament Hill with members of the government by his side. This is obviously not a matter of course unless there were specific and real links between the government and Quebecor's effort for a new pro-conservative news channel.

We can further speculate, given the timing of the resignation, that there is some connection between Mr. Teneycke and the fraudulent signatures on the Avaaz petition.

Keep watching this story.

What is the next Narrative for the Conservative Party?

Many Conservative party supporters must surely be beginning to ask themselves what their party narrative is going to be in the near future. This is not unique; any party that has been ruling for a few years is bound to face a shifting political landscape and be forced to adapt itself to new situations. But the situation seems particularly difficult for the Conservatives at the moment because not only have circumstances changed quite a bit from their original election victory, but it seems that they have lost almost all the narratives with which they began their present incarnation.

Harper's Neo-Cons won their orignal victory with surprisingly sparse political narrative, at least at the large public scope. They really ran against Mr. Martin with little more than the implicit slogan "we are not the Liberals!" It was enough to win them a minority government, but the policy "we aren't the other guys" will only take you so far, particularly if a large portion of the population is suspicious that you are not as moderate as you portray yourself. When they won their second minority they actually did so with fewer votes than their first because the poison and combative atmosphere which they had done so much to create turned so many voters off that voter turnout was abismal. Again they won a minority with very little in the way of large public narrative and, if you will recall, even tried to resist issuing a platform and only did so in the last days under pressure from the media and other parties. Overall, I think the Harper Government has resisted too much overt narrative (particularly policy oriented narrative) because they know that the nuts and bolts of their policies are actually fairly unpopular. This is really a reflection of American political discourse where there is not substantive policy debate in the public because the two parties don't actually function as parties in the way that we understand the term and they have no actual policies that they are fighting for. Instead policy in the US is fractured and incremental and happens largely without any public knowledge of the actual form that the policies have taken. Likewise, Harper has attempted in large part to rule by stealth, making many changes outside the arena of actual Common's debate. This can, of course, be a fairly effective political strategy, as events in the US have demonstrated. The vast majority of US citizens are in fact in favor of, for example, a state run medical system of some sort but because of the fracture nature of electoral politics in the US this simply can't happen. Furthermore, if you keep the population confused about what polies are actually passing and the nature of those policies, it makes actual substantive debate very difficult, if not impossible.

Having said this, I believe that you can't simply transplant the US politics into Canada because the nature of the systems is very different and with a much smaller population in Canada it is simply more difficult to obfuscate the discourse. Thus while US elections tend to generate around vague ideas with little clear policy conclusions such as 'illegal immigration' or 'economic reform,' the discourse in Canada will inevitably return, I think, to a number of actual issues. This means that Harper cannot sustain this vague and obfuscated approach forever and issues, substantive issues, will eventually catch up with him no matter how hard he tries to alienate the voters or rule by stealth.

This brings us to what I would call the background narratives of the contemporary Conservative Party. Though there has been a noticeable absence of substantive debate in recent years, the Conservatives have traded, in part, on a group of background narratives which pulled just enough votes to elect them to two minority governments. These have been (in no specific order) political reform, transparency, social conservatism, fiscal responsibility, good governance, tough on crime, and strong military support. The problem the Conservatives now face is that it appears that all of the narrative possibilities of these political platitudes seem to have been exhausted.  Political reform and transparency were the first to go. Even I, and I am not prone to political idealism or naivety, thought that after the Liberal years of rather blatant corruption and patronage, the Conservatives would attempt to reform the system somewhat and function differently in power. However, it didn't take long to see that this was not to be the case. In fact this government has reformed nothing, and has entrenched the traditional power of the PMO to ever greater lengths as well as undermining the power of Ministers and the role of the House. It has also undermined the independence of the judiciary, the civil service, and a number of NGOs that have traditionally been federally funded.  It also became pretty clear early on that this government was not interested in transparency. Instead it has raised secrecy and control to a new standard and profoundly undermined the freedom of information. As for social conservatism, this government has not really pursued this ideology in policy form except to undermine groups that advocated for women's and minority rights. This oversight is, I believe, a result of the fact that the Conservatives know, despite the spin, that the Canadian public is gradually becoming more liberal socially speaking and the idea of, say, outlawing abortion or gay marriage would be political suicide for the Government.

Their narrative of fiscal responsibility has also become tarnished, perhaps fatally so. It began during their first two years in office when they brought the country to the brink of deficit even when everyone knew a recession was coming. I believe they did this because they were going to use it as an excuse to cut social policies. But when the recession hit harder than expected they were forced into an extreme deficit situation which no party, least of all one that traded on fiscal responsibility, wants to be in. Now facing serious debt and deficit the narrative of fiscal conservatism will be a very difficult one to sustain. And with proposed billion in spending coming in dubious areas such as prisons and jet-fighters, as well as over a billion being spent on a summit with little outcome, the government not only will have trouble with their fiscal narrative but with their 'good-governance' one as well. Building outhouses in Tony Clements riding under the auspice of Summit spending, and spending billions on untendered contracts just doesn't make good narrative no matter what your politics are.

The 'tough on crime' narrative still plays fairly well with many voters, particularly aging ones. However, this is also wearing thin as more and more people are realizing that crime is actually going down and large-scale prison programs have actually helped to bring some economies to near bankruptcy while having little or no impact on crime. Spending ten billion dollars to house ghosts who committed unreported crimes is not going to sell well at a time when the government is going to have to talk about making major cuts to health and education.

Lastly the military narrative. This is usually an oldie but a goodie for conservative governments. However, here too the narrative is breaking down. This government has actually done surprisingly little for the military and their treatment of veterans appears to be abismal. Furthermore, large new military expenditures during a time when everyone is talking about fiscal prudence is surely going to be a difficult narrative to sell.

With the weakening of the Conservative narratives the Liberals have actually done little to fill the vacuum. They seem as reluctant as the their political opponents to venture out with specific policies which reflect actual narratives. I suppose knowing the nasty, American-style, political approach that this government takes, the Liberals have been reluctant to give the Conservatives ammunition with which to brand the Liberals in the next election.

So it seems to me that the Conservatives have sort of painted themselves into a corner in the apparent hope that the Liberals will bail them out somehow. We can predict that, in the absence of anything else, the Conservatives will attempt to bring the 'coalition of socialists and separatists' constantly to the foreground  but I don't see that having much play. And with the extreme centralizing power of Harper dominating the Conservative Party at the moment it will be very difficult to rebuild the party after a loss - this is Political Science 101.

The next couple of years will be interesting.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

What is Harper's Political ideology. . . . .

David Myers of the Vancouver Sun today made an explicit connection between the strategies of the right-wing in the US and the Harper government; a link now made easier by the obvious connection between Harper and the NRA. He also spoke that dreaded word "fascist" in relation to this government's strategy. Last weak in another media article a Professor from The University of Carleton, named Jonathan Malloy, mused about what political strategy motivates the Harper government. Mr. Malloy ends by saying he doesn't know because, as he tries to demonstrate, all the standard political strategies seem not to fit with various acts by Harper and his cronies. What is very interesting is that Malloy disregards the strategy of Libertarianism because the Harper Government is big on Prisons and more and more police control. But what Mr. Malloy overlooks in his analysis is the ideology of fascism.

As I said a few years ago on this blog, Harper's political ideology is fascism in very simple and straightforward terms. His is big on State Controls of the population, he wants to undermine the power of the independent judiciary, he undermines democratic processes wherever possible, he is big on the military, he is eager to align the Government with Big Business, he degrades all opponents with provokative epithets rather than real discourse, he draws on inflammatory labels whenever possible (like separatists or socialists etc). Everything about this agenda is fascists and people are beginning to wake up to this fact.

Check out this book called Friendly Fascism by Bertram Gross.

Friday, September 10, 2010

To Mosque or not to Mosque. . . . .

There is a very powerful moment in Richard Attenborough's movie Gandhi in which a man, amid the terrible race riots in Calcutta, tells Gandhi that he is going to hell because he killed a Muslim child. When questioned by Gandhi concerning why he would commit such a horrendous act, the man says that he was driven to it because the Muslims rioters killed his own son. Gandhi then tells the man that he knows a way out of hell. "Find a boy," Gandhi says, "whose mother and father are dead and raise him as your own. Only make sure he is a muslim and raise him as one." The man is taken aback but after a moment of reflection he is overwhelmed and kneels at the Mahatma's bedside weeping. It is a remarkably powerful moment because it is an amazing reminder of the most basic kind of religious notion of forgiveness. Peace is made not in retribution but in embracing the flip-side of anger and mourning. In other words, peace is constructed by taking the energy associated with hate and funnelling it into acts of goodness; and not just acts of goodness but acts which help us better understand those that made us angry in the first place. This is what I have to say about the Mosque on the sight of the World Trade Centre and those who oppose it. Christian ethics teach me that one should not oppose such a mosque, in fact directly the opposite. I think Christians should not oppose a mosque on the sight but should create volunteer brigades to help build it. And furthermore, they should seek to build a multi-faith centre there in which people of all faiths can come together in an open spirit that promotes understanding.

Of course if that actually happens I will be watching the skys out my window for flying pigs.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

A few things I am having trouble understanding this week. . . .

1. Why is it that this new trend in Conservatism trades on the label "libertarian" while at the same time trying to put more and more people in prison for the smallest of crimes and also eager to stop people from exercising their true sexuality and stop women from controlling their own bodies?

2. Why do teen age boys dress like clowns (literally) and stil think they are cool?

3. Why to teen age boys, dressed as they are, still attract teen age girls?

4. Why have I met so many parents who stop their children from watching the often brilliantly satirical television show The Simpsons, while at the same time letting them spend hours every day engaged in virtual killing in horrendous video games?

5. And while we are on the subjects of parents; why do so many parents pretend that they never did nefarious things when they were teenagers, while trying to control their own kids and stop them from learning about the world for themselves? (You know who you are)

6. Why do so many people praise and laud the great poets and artists of the past who struggled to practice their art despite the hardships, while at the same time calling anyone that they know who commits their lives to art or poetry irresponsible, shiftless, and lazy?

7. Why are people so blindly partisan that they praise their political allies for doing things that they would rabidly condemn in others?

8. Why is it that late at night I just can't get the last moments of my father's life out of my head?

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

One more word on the Gun-registry. . . . .

Like many bloggers, I have written a number of things and received a number of irate comments (some too offensive to publish) from readers. The thrust of the comments, like the lion's share of conservative blogs, which oppose the gun registry have concentrated their focus on one basic argument, to wit; they claim that there is not enough evidence that the gun registry is adequately useful or effective in the reduction or control of gun violence. Now I have returned what is also a fairly simple argument which essentially runs that such controls on guns can only be seen, like most legal efforts, against the backdrop of a much wider campaign to control guns in society and the real effect of the gun registry is only meaningful if it is one part of an overall normative effort to gradually end gun violence. I have furthered this argument with the simple corollary demonstration that countries with greater level of gun registration and control have, overall, lower levels of gun violence. This is the type of argument made by sociologists like Jurgen Habermas, that laws are part of a normative, rather than a empirical discourse, and their effectiveness can seldom be demonstrated in isolation.

Anyway, the funny point of all of this is that while the anti-gun registry folks have been quite keen to talk about empirical data about effectiveness or lack thereof, I still have not heard a real argument concerning why, in a society where we register everything from cars to dogs, registering a machine, the primary function of which is to kill, is such a huge problem. What are these terrible hardships that these anonymous ranchers and farmers are suffering by being compelled to register guns? A few dollars? Having to fill in a form? You see, if lack of effectiveness were the only issue, it wouldn't be a problem. However, we are now being exposed to an ever increasing number of rather rabid gun owners who rant on about how terrible it is that they are being asked to register guns, what a hardship it is, how significant a violation of their human rights it is. Yet I have never heard a single, not one mind you, how this is so. Every time I have to reregister my car with the province, I think it is a big drag. But I can't ague that it is a terrible violation of my human rights, because it isn't and it would be entirely disingenuous for me to say that is was. Thus, since in the big picture the gun-registry is not that expensive to run I think even if it were only effective in avoiding one gun crime that it has paid for itself. And since I have heard no single argument why its existence is so terrible, I think it is pretty straightforward.

Teneyck and the death of discourse. . . . . .

Anyone paying attention should be concerned, if not frightened, about the future of the principles of the CRTC which should take as one of it primary goals that broadcast media adhere to the CBSC code on Journalistic Independence. The two national news sources (CBC and CTV) have, for the most part attempted to maintain an unbiased portrayal of events. They include editorial information in their broadcasts but they clearly identify these, and when they tackle political news they usually attempt to bring all parties (within the so-called mainstream) to the table.

Tory Teneycke has made it clear on a number of occasions (and by his overall journalistic style) that should he get his coveted news station he was no intention of adhering to principles of unbiased independence. We should be further concerned when we realize that while Teneycke was writing his editorial on the Avaaz petition against his station he simultaneously had inside information on an unprincipled, online attack on that very petition. How convenient that Mr. Teneycke would have unpublished information on an attack that furthers his political point at the very moment he was making it. The conclusions are easy to draw for yourself. Furthermore, his attacks on Avaaz as an American organization are misleading and diversionary to the real point. Avaaz, like many such non-profit activist groups is international in nature and simply, like the UN, has its headquarter in the US. But it is Mr. Teneycke's style (just like it his former's bosses style) to obfuscate and divert rather than engage in actual political discourse.

Fox News in the US has become an arm of the Republican Party and they spread a culture of fear, chauvinism, and lies in order to pursue their political goals. Real political debate hardly exists in the US (one of the primary reason I left the country) because it is simply too easy to divert people's attention away from real discourse with tried and true methods of diversion such as red-baiting, innuendo, and fear-mongering. (I have actually hear people on Fox News refer to President Obama as a Marxist. They know this is not true but they also know that the majority of US citizens don't know what the word really means so it is a perfect inflammatory technique) Mr. Harper has been using just such a political technique for years now and Mr. Teneycke and his ilk are hoping to bring that into your living room disguised as 'news.' We abandon journalistic integrity at a our peril and when we let fear lead our discourse we will have no discourse at all.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

More to ADHR and Normative discourse. . . . .

With all due respect ADHR, I really don't think you understand what I have been saying. If I sounded arrogant, I appoligize, but this conversation brings up some serious emotions and I have been having this paradigmatic argument for so many years.

 Correlations DO in fact establish the point and sociologists since the foundations of modern social sciences from the time of Durkheim and Weber onward have established this point. And Habermas's contemporary work on both communicative action and Normative standards and the foundations of Law reiterate it over and over. Crime is almost always an over-determined act socially speaking and laws can very seldom be tied directly to the commitment of crimes. You cannot, for example "prove" that laws against murder slow the murder rate. Most legal arguments can only be meaningful against the backdrop of certain kinds of lifeworld (lebenswelt) assumptions or certain kinds of ideological constructs. As a result - in most cases correlation is not only the best kind of proof the social policy-maker has it is often the ONLY mechanism they have.

Your distinction concerning correlation and causal connection is simply wrong according to the mechanisms of most decent
social science and philosophy. It is the discourse of science and mathematics. Even though some social scientists have attempted (I believe with no success) to establish Coefficients of Correlation, these are not only too complicated but are not meaningful to normative and social discourse. This is clearly one of the things that Habermas established in the Theory of Communicative Action and one of the things that he has long fought against concerning the colonization of social discourse by technocratic discourse. Incidentally Feyerabend also did brilliant work in this area.

Connections between certain kinds of social behaviour and certain laws and social policies is in fact correlative not causal, period. Furthermore, the neo-conservative efforts to colonize all social policy making with absolute causal 'proofs'and quantifications is part of a nearly global and entirely disingenuous effort to create the appearance of necessity and technocracy, all the while being driven by fairly firm ideological efforts.

Of course, an issue like gun violence is over-determined and cannot be reduced to any single policy or social phenomenon. But if you need to get technical then this much is clear. No law, NONE, can be said to be causal since only individual actions by independent actors could appropriately be referred to as causal. Thus the great sociologists like Habermas have established normative discourse in terms of a complex web of determinates. Since one cannot "prove" that loose gun laws in the US have lead to the highest rates of gun crimes in the world, the sociologist is dependent upon another kind of discursive exercise. This is not "illogical" or faulty logical as your original comment implied. Rather it is a kind of normative discourse that depends on correlations and certain kinds of communicative actions. And since you, and no one else, can actually prove a causal relationship between any law and certain behaviors (a fact even many right-wing theorists have been at pains to establish) it is entirely disingenuous to demand such proof in normative discourse. Rather, it is a different kind of correlative and communicative mechanism that is demanded. I can no more 'prove' by technocratic standards that a gun registry will reduce gun crimes than you can 'prove' by the same standards that generous welfare causes the working class to be shiftless and lazy. And since no such mechanism of 'proof' exists you can choose to believe that there is no link between the loose gun control mechanisms in the US and the highest rate of gun violence in the world. There is in fact no causal link, properly so-called, only a correlative one.

We know, for example that in countries like the UK and Holland gradually established stronger mechanisms of gun-control, including registries, and gun-violence (particularly domestic violence involving guns) gradually declined more or less in line with the establishment of such controls. This is not causal, it is correlative. But hard logic and technocratic reason can still let you deny such links. But technocratic rationality doesn't actually belong in the realm of normative discourse and in my opinion technocratic rationality is largely and ideological illusion anyway, a position made clear by a long history of skeptics from Montaigne to Feyerbend. You failed, when you talked of the “empirical” question, to understand that I was in fact arguing that you cannot, in almost all cases, make such empirical connections within a region of normative discourse. In other words I am using an entirely different paradigm of discourse rather than the 'empirical' one. Furthermore, I am arguing that I explicitly reject the paradigm you are using because it is a technocratic colonization of normative discourse, which is not only useless but entirely disingenuous. And I am building this argument on the back of Weber's work on rationalization in Economy and Society, Horkheimer and Adorno in Dialectic of Enlightenment, and Habermas' work in Action, Theory of Communicative Action, Theory and Practice, and Between Facts and Norms.  (See also Luca Corchia's work on Explicative Models of Complexity)

Some Problems of Democracy. . . . .

I was having an online conversation with one of the people who commented on my blog and it got me thinking about the challenges facing our democracy in a way I hadn't before. Because of the gun-registry issue this person was struggling with the issue of representation and the manner of responsibility that a representative has to his or her constituents. Like many people this person had the gut reaction that an elected person should 'represent' the will of those how elected him/her, thus voting the way they want them to on issues such as the gun-registry. This is an understandable position because at first glance it is counter-intuitive to think anything else. I predictably pointed out that after hundreds of years of British parliamentary tradition our elected representatives generally vote the way that their party dictates and that the US system (one of the few other 'first past the post' systems remaining in the world today) is much closer to a directly representative one because there are no "party" policies and each elected representative votes they way they want on any given issue. This system also has its obvious pitfalls because major policy changes are almost impossible to manufacture and in the US, outside of policies de facto created by Supreme Court decisions, few major policy social policy shifts have occurred since the depression and the election of FDR.

Ironically of course, our present government started its life as the so-called "Reform" party which once stood up for less party power and more free votes, boy did that go right out the window when they actually got power!!!

Anyway, as I was having this online conversation about the various benefits and pitfalls of the different structures of democratic systems I began to think about the problem in a way which I hadn't really before. That is, even if one advocates for more so-called 'direct' democracy and thinks that their representatives first responsibility should be to his or her constituents, how exactly would that work in practice? Since in most representative districts the elected representative is actually elected without a majority of the electors, who exactly is he or she beholden to? Are these  representatives beholden to the, say, 35% who voted for them, or are they actually more responsible to the 65% percent who didn't vote for them? In other words, in a first past the post electoral system in which most of the representatives (let alone the ruling government) are not elected by a majority of voters, who do our elected representatives really represent? Now of course the conventional wisdom tells us that our elected representatives are supposed to represent all of the people in their constituency, and in some senses they often do. If you have a particular problem with, say, your passport or something you can appeal for help to you local representative and generally they will try to help without asking you what party you support. However, on most big electoral issues this warm fuzzy theory of representation means little since even in cases of free votes your representative will vote the way they think only those who voted for them want them to rather than a "majority" of the constituents. In other words where individual representatives are elected by pluralities rather than majorities free votes mean little and the idea of a representative actually representing their constituents is a bit of a fantasy. This is why, in the final analysis, the so-called "Reform" effort got nowhere, because they soon realized that where an electorate is often split in something close to three ways, your best bet for getting reelected is to play wedge politics and vote in ways that attract a plurality of votes, making actual representation irrelevant. Thus it is perfectly predictable that a guy like Harper who once claimed to believe in more direct democracy, free votes and all that they entail, quickly became expert at the dangerous, distasteful, and undemocratic political game of wedge politics. By the necessity of getting reelected the conservatives don't care a whit about representing their constituents, but they attempt to maintain the support of a slim plurality of the constituents. And one of the things that is particularly distasteful about this game is that it is in practice a direct effort to thwart the majority of electors. And their dream is to get a majority of members in the House so they can rule as de facto dictators without ever getting a majority of votes from the people. A rather perverse dream when you actually think about it.

The upshot of this discussion is that it has deepened my commitment to some form of Proportional representation. Though PR systems have their own drawbacks, they ensure that the individual representatives can vote for those who elected them and the game of wedge politics loses its cache.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Reply to Comment . . . The Logic of Normative Discourse . . .

I accidentally deleted a comment by ADHR and therefore post it here in its entirety. 

No. There's a hole in her logic, and in yours. You both assumed that the gun registry actually is a tool for reducing gun violence, particularly against women. That has not been proven. All we have to go on are (1) a correlation between reduced violence and the existence of the registry (and, as any good skeptic knows, correlation is not causation), and (2) the say-so of the RCMP (that's this RCMP). Neither proves the point.

I'll refrain from comment on your "culture of violence" riff. 

Now for my comment on his comment.

I grow weary of people who try to argue formal "logic"  when they don't appear to understand either formal or philosophical logic in any meaningful sense of the word. Our commentator here seems to be conflating hard emphatically centered logic, which has more of a relationship to mathematics, and the more common use of logic as it pertains to social science and the rational discourse of normative questions. 

First of all, guns, like all inanimate objects, cannot be said to "Cause" violence. A machine like a gun could  only be said to 'cause' violence in the presence of a malfunction and even then to argue 'causation' in such a case is a stretch. To put it in biblical terms we can take from the book of Job which reminds us that "Affliction cometh not forth from the dust, neither doth trouble spring out of the ground."  Guns do not cause violence, they precipitate it, in the sense that they promote its possibility to a significant degree both in quality and quantity. 

Thus ADHR doesn't seem to understand that, while correlation is indeed not causation, in most such cases 'correlation' is all the social scientist has to establish links. Thus, ADHR seems to be functioning in a milue of dogmatic empiricism which lost its power generations ago. There is nothing 'illogical' about correlation, rather it is perfectly logical - it is just not empirical in the sense that a philosopher like, say, Hume might demand. 

There is a direct correlation in most cases between the number of guns in a society and the degree of gun violence. One does not need to argue a causation here, in fact causation simply doesn't enter the picture. It is like this - there is a direct correlation between the number of working telephones in a society and the number of telephone calls made each day. The telephones are not "causing" the calls. However, if you took half the phones away, for example, there would be a reduction in the number of calls made each day. This is correlation not causation. 

Similarly with the case of guns; reduce guns and you reduce gun violence - the correlation is clear. Now we come to the question of the gun registry. We actually don't need to prove causation here either, since there is a direct correlation between the degree of gun control in society and the number of guns and the amount of gun violence. Gun registries actually reduce the number of guns in  circulation because there are always a certain number of people who will not purchase a gun if they are compelled to register it. This is one of the reasons that there many more wackos in the US who possess guns - because the easier it is to get guns the more likely someone who doesn't "need" the gun because they live on a farm etc, will purchase it. 

The value of any gun registry cannot be made in a causal or empirical sense, the same way that certain individual laws against violence could not be seen in isolation in order to be meaningful. This is because of something in logic called 'over-determination.' One cannot make a causal link in cases of over-determination. Rather one can only make correlative links. Obviously any gun registry program will not put an end to violence, but since there is a correlative relationship between greater degrees of gun registration and control and the number of gun crimes, it is in fact perfectly "logical" to assume that a generalized program of gun registration and control will ultimately reduce the number of gun crimes. And since one of the primary areas of gun violence is violence against women, we can also assume that gun registry and controls will reduce, in the long run, violence against women. Thus it is important to remember, as Mallick reminds us, that The registration forms are designed to guard against people buying guns after they separate, or divorce, or are under psychiatric care. And it tells police officers what’s waiting for them when they approach a home where there’s a domestic dispute.

Logic utilized by philosophers and social scientists is not simply empirical and causal and if ADHR had read the work of Louis Althusser or Jurgen Habermas he would understand this. Laws and social policies have to seen against the backdrop of  general correlations otherwise reason in normative questions would not be meaningful. Even Hume understood that you cannot derive an ought from an is. But there is not a hole in the logic here as ADHR claims. Rather Ms Mallick simply understands the rational discourse of normative questions and the direct and meaningful correlation between controls on guns and the quantity and quality of domestic and generalized violence. 

PS. Given his apparent failure to understand normative discourse, I am glad that ADHR refrained from commenting on my "riff" on our culture of violence. Because if he thinks we have not created a culture of violence he is so far gone from both logic and reality that it wouldn't be worth our time. 

Heather Mallick and Gun violence. . . . .

I don't usually devote a blog posting to the words of someone else but today is a good day to do so. Heather Mallick deserves our praise today. Now I have always been a tad suspicious of gun control because, though I am very far on the left of the political spectrum, I am  also a student of Thomas Paine and I have trouble trusting a government that is eager to keep as many guns as it can for itself and eliminate the rest. After the abuses by the military and the police in recent decades we should all be afraid of that and be lobbying for the elimination of ALL the guns as well as the existence of a standing army. That is why there is a certain irony, and dare I say hypocrisy, in arguing for gun control while at the same time tolerating and even promoting a culture of violence and machismo. Thus Ms Mallick is correct in pointing out in her article today the important gender issue that is being forgotten in the whole debate over the gun registry. Since the massacre at Montreal (may they all rest in peace) it should be obvious to anyone with any sense that violence against women is a central issue in the gun debate. And though compelling people to register long-guns will not end violence against women, and unfortunatly the murder of innocent women at the hands of men will continue, any tool in that fight is welcome and important. And since the majority of such incidents occur with legally obtained guns, how can anyone doubt that any contribution to the knowledge we have of where guns are and who has them can help in that struggle? To say that the gun registry is useless because it won't eliminate gun violence is like saying that a law against murder is useless because it hasn't ended murders.

But what I praise Ms Mallick for most today is reminding us that we have created and continue to promote a culture of violence. By all means, register guns, but while we are busy doing that let's stand against a culture where violence is pervasive in everything from video games to foreign policy and where politics has become almost the exclusive domain of a bullying culture of machismo. And while you are fighting this struggle, tell any NDP friends that you might have that it is time to look for a new leader.