Friday, October 31, 2003

GRANATSTEIN: EARNEST AS ALWAYS

Last week Canadian historian Jack Granatstein, now of the C.D Howe Institute, delivered an address in Toronto entiled: The Importance of Being Less Earnest: Promoting Canada's National Interest Through Tighter Ties with the U.S.

I have read many of Professor Granatsteins other works. He writes books with titles such as "Who Killed Canadian History?" (hint: it was not him) and "How Britain's Weakness Forced Canada into the Arms of the United States" (and no, the sentiment of this book does not contradict that of his recent address). Basically, Granatstein is really nostalgic about the good old days of the British empire and is compensating by trying to make Canada even more so a colony of the U.S.

I have more I want to write in response to Granatsteins latest piece, however it is after 2:00 and I do not have the time. Blogging this weekend will also probably be light. I will deal with Granatstein however, don't worry.

For now you can read Gordon Barthos's response in The Toronto Star.

Posted by Matthew @ 2:05 AM :: (0) comments

Thursday, October 30, 2003

THE LAST OF TRUDEAU'S MEN

I currently have this picture on the desk-top of my computer at home. Looking at it and considering that Prime Minister Chretien is very near retirement makes me realize that the Liberal Party and the Commons are about to see a major changing of the guard.

Chretien is one of the last, and to be fair the most significant, of the Trudeau Liberals. There is only one other member, the Hon. Charles Caccia, who was first elected to the Commons with Trudeau in 1968 but he obviously does not have the stature of Chretien. Chretien served in the ministries of Prime Ministers Pearson, Turner and Trudeau (the guys in the picture). He himself has been Prime Minister for ten years, during which time he has shaped much of the Liberal Party and senior cabinet members.

With the ascension of Paul Martin as prime minister an entirely different corps of the Liberal party will be in power. None of Chretiens cabinet members are likely to remain in cabinet. The likes of Rock, Manley, Cuchon and Copps are finished. Ministers such as McLellan and Goodale, who may remain, are firmly Martinites.

Martin is not a part of the Trudeau/Chretien tradition and is going to try and distance his government as much as possible from that of the current prime minster. With Martin as prime minister we are going to see a significant overturn, not just in ministers and PMO staff but also in the ideas that shape their policies. It remains to be seen whether the nation will be served well by a total transfusion of new blood or if Martin will abandon traditions Candians have grown used to since the mid-1960s.

Posted by Matthew @ 11:14 PM :: (0) comments

LIARS

In his column today Ian Urquhart not so subtley takes the Ontario Tories to task for the budget deficit they left behind. Okay, he comes right out and says it. They clearly lied.

the Tories pulled numbers out of the air to meet their goal of a balanced budget. In other words, they lied.

The party of fiscal responsibility does not look so responsible anymore. Hopefully, the citizens of Ontario will not soon forget this.

Posted by Matthew @ 10:31 AM :: (0) comments

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

PRIORITIES AND OPPORTUNITY

A recently released survey by the Centre for Research and Information on Canada indicates that Canadians what to see better co-operation between federal and provincial governments and are concerned about the operation of our democratic institutions.

The poll results show improved inter-governmental relations to be a priority second only to health care and just a head of increased funding for education. No other priorities came close in importance to these three.

When asked, 70% of Canadians said that better federal relations were a priority for government. Further 70% again felt that both federal and provincial governments were equally to blame when relations between the two break down and only 42% feel that the two levels of government are currently functioning well together.

In todays Globe and Mail, Bob Rae commented on the survey saying the message behind these numbers is clear:

The message is directed at Ottawa and the head of every provincial and territorial government. Canadians are reluctant to take sides in federal-provincial disputes, and care little about who has jurisdiction. They hold federal and provincial leaders collectively accountable for the efficient running of programs and delivery of services (that may disappoint those who see blaming the other guy as a ticket to political success).

I think that he is right to say this is what the survey indicates. I think that the importance Canadians place on health and education is related to the importance they place on federal relations. I think, increasingly, Canadians are feeling that the quality of our valued social programs is eroding and that the inability of the provinces and Ottawa to get along is a big part of the problem.

Further, the survey indicates a large plurality of Canadians are concerned with the way our democratic institutions are functioning. The survey notes that 48% of Canadians believe that, "making significant changes to our political institutions to make them much more open and democratic" is a high priority.

Dr. Matthew Mendelsohn of Queens University commented that,

"the high figures for making democratic reform a priority show that Canadians are concerned about the state of their democracy. Health and education tough Canadian very directly… improving federal-provincial relations and the way democracy works are much more abstract and technical. That they score so high underscores some real dissatisfaction with the way governments make decisions."

Canadians clearly want a change in the way federalism operates but, in a typically Canadian fashion, they want the change to be on a practical, not a theoretical level. I argued somewhere below that Canadians are not ready for another round of mega-constitutional reform. This survey bears out that opinion. It found that 62% of Canadians felt it was not time to change the system by opening up the constitution for debate. Canadians don’t want to change the whole system, they just want their politicians to work better within it.

Most importantly we have an opportunity at this time to react to these concerns. There are new provincial governments in every Atlantic province as well as Ontario, Quebec and soon Saskatchewan. Within months Paul Martin will be prime minister. There are Liberal governments in Ottawa, Toronto and Quebec City for the first time since 1943. Paul Martin has said that the democratic deficit is going to be one of his priorities. Both Dalton McGuinty and Jean Charest have said co-operation with Ottawa is going to be a priority for them.

The demands from the citizenry are apparent. The will in government seems to be there. Canadians need to take this opportunity to make our government work better.

Posted by Matthew @ 7:45 PM :: (0) comments

FISCAL CONSERVATIVES?

The independent audit of the Ontario government's finances was released today. As reported in The Star, it reveals that the budget deficit left by the outgoing Conservative government is bigger than anyone expected at $5.6 billion. This from a government that claimed throughout the year and the recent campaign that the budget would be balanced. Further the Tories always touted themselves as the party of fiscal responsibility. This may have been true under the first term of Premier Harris, but under his second term and during the administration of Premier Eves this seems to have certainly not been true.

Most people saw this coming of course. Everyone knew that the budget would not be balanced despite Janet Eckers claims to the contrary. Even John Williamson, of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, said he could not fault McGuinty for not being able to eliminate the deficit this fiscal year.

However, McGuinty and his government are going to have to deal with this problem. They face the task of having to balance the budget, without raising taxes, while attempting to fulfill their election promises, many of which require increased spending. McGuinty will be able to balme budget problem on the Conservatives, and rightly so, for a short time. But not for long.

Posted by Matthew @ 6:11 PM :: (0) comments

CHANCES ARE I'M READING

I spent most of yesterday reading, both acadmeic and online, hence the lack of posting. Through my travels online, however, I found another great blog I am adding to the links on the side bar.

The blog is Pogge and its banner title is Peace, Order and Good Government, eh? It seems to be pretty new and I have read most of the posts on the site. It has some great commentary on Canadian politics. Check it out.

Posted by Matthew @ 12:53 AM :: (0) comments

Tuesday, October 28, 2003

NEW BLOG LINK

I recently discovered the siteof Toronto based blogger the Armchair Garbageman. He has a good looking site with some interesting and funny thoughts. In particular, he his currently blogging a lot about the up-coming Toronto mayoralty election.

Apparently, he has discovered my humble blog as well and has given me a link from his site. It is much appreciated. I have of course reciprocated by adding a link to his.

Check out his blog at armchairgarbageman.blogspot.com

Posted by Matthew @ 3:09 PM :: (0) comments

Monday, October 27, 2003

SITE NEWS

You will notice that the 'comments' service has disappeared. I do not know why this has happened. I have contacted the people who provide my comments service and hopefully they are working at restoring said service. For now you will have to be satisfied with just reading my opinions.

Update [Oct. 28, 2:45 p.m.]: Apparently some 30,000 comments on the blogspeak service (the one I use) have gone missing. The people over there are working on fixing the problem. Hopefully the comments will be back soon.

Posted by Matthew @ 9:58 PM :: (0) comments

WELLS ON CANADIAN POLITICS

Paul Wells has two great posts today on two different issues of Candian politics.

The first argues that Jack Layton is the only opposition leader in the Commons with any sense because he is actually focussed on the future and attacking Paul Martin, as opposed to the three others who are trying to take cheap shots at the Prime Minister before he leaves office.

The second one brilliantly attacks all those Canadians who use "geography as a substitute for thinking," (and there are a lot of them). They are the people who say "but you're from Ontario" or "thats Quebec for you..." as a point of departure for supposedly rational debate.

Read them both.

Posted by Matthew @ 5:59 PM :: (0) comments

SAME SEX MARRIAGE AND POLITICAL CHANGE

Matthew Yglesias writes that the climate in the U.S is not yet ready for same-sex marriage but that it is only a matter of time. Further he says that opposing a Federal Marriage Amendment is worth risking an election on for the Democrats. He says:

Anyone who supports a Federal Marriage Amendment next year is going to look like a real ass a generation from now, and I plan on being alive and kicking well into the "what kind of asses supported that?" era and really don't want to say I voted for one.

He's right. In fifteen years the legislators who have opposed equal marriage for same-sex couples are going to look like the people who opposed universal suffrage and de-segregation. All those MPs who supported the Alliance motion to maintain the traditional definition of marriage back in September should be paying attention. Their position is only going to look increasingly ignorant and intolerant in the future. And like Yglesias says, I plan on being around to stick it to them.

Posted by Matthew @ 5:28 PM :: (0) comments

REFUGEES FROM CANADA

I know the source for this story is not the best but still its interesting.

In the past six years 111 Canadians have made refugee claims to the United States and sixteen have been accepted. As the article points out:

the Canadian claimants, or the cities they are from, cannot be revealed because they're fleeing and in danger for their lives.

In danger for their lives? What are they running from? Universal health care? Good public education? Neighbourhoods where people don't carry guns? I will see if I can find out more about what is threatning the lives of these refugees.

[via Bourque]

Posted by Matthew @ 10:34 AM :: (0) comments

MULTIPLE ATTACKS ACROSS BAGHDAD

You can pick your news source pretty much at random today. The lead story everywhere is multiple car bomb attacks across Baghdad at a Red Cross location and four Iraqi police stations. Hundreds of people have been wounded and dozens killed.

The Red Cross and local police stations are clearly institutions meant to help rebuild Iraqi society. The intent of the terrorists seems pretty clear.

Posted by Matthew @ 10:15 AM :: (0) comments

CN-TOWER STAIR CLIMB

The semi-annual event was held yesterday at the tower. Over 10,000 climbed the 1776 steps and raised over $830,000 for the United Way.

When I was in high school I made the climb a couple of times. Being at school in Montreal has prevented me from making the climb recently. Back then my best time for the climb was 17:58. The record climbing time for a male is held by Brendan Keenoy who accomplished the feat in 7:52 in 1989. In 2000, Olympic cyclist Chrissy Reddon set the female record at 11:52. The Armchair Garbageman did the climb yesterday in 31:33 and has a brief report of the event.

Posted by Matthew @ 1:43 AM :: (0) comments

Sunday, October 26, 2003

AN UNSOPHISTICATED ENEMY

It is being widely reported that an attack on the al-Rashid Hotel in Baghdad killed one American army officer and wounded 17 other people today. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz was in the hotel at the time of the attack but was not injured and not considered to be the specific target of the attack.

Brig. Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, commander of the Army's 1st Armored Division, attempted to de-legitmize the attackers by ridiculing the home-made rocket launcher used in the attack.

Dempsey told Wolfowitz that the launcher was a "Rube Goldberg device" and that its crudeness indicated the weakness of the forces opposing the U.S. occupation, rather than their strength.
[...]
He dismissed the rocket launcher as a crude device akin to a garage science project "with a welder and a battery and a handful of pipes." Yet he acknowledged that it was dangerous and deadly. "It had the effect they intended, didn't it? But I don't see it as sophistication."


Clearly sophistication has little to do with it. Despite the fact that the U.S. has defeated the enemy on the field of battle preventing attacks like this by "unsophisticated" individuals or cells is proving very difficult. The "unsophisticated" nature of the enemy and its methods of attack is the very problem. Attacks like this show that as long as a very small number of these individuals remain at large and as long as they have access to "a welder and a battery and a handful of pipes" they will be able to continue to destabalzie the U.S. presence in Iraq.

The U.S is currently engaged in probably the most difficult military situation there is. They face a nearly unidentifiable enemy who expoits all the weaknesess of a major occupying force. The enemy attacks using crude methods, rarely ever showing himself. In relative terms the American losses are not terribly damaging. But the effects of attacks like these once reported in the media is far from negligeable. The administration is certainly committed to staying in Iraq, but will the American citizenry maintain the same committment?

Posted by Matthew @ 11:39 PM :: (0) comments

Saturday, October 25, 2003

NEW GOVERNMENT, NEW DIRECTION

Belated, but as promised, a few thoughts on the new Ontario Liberal government of Dalton McGuinty.

So far the new premier is doing all of the right things in setting out a new direction for the province. His first actions and pronouncements include:

1. The appointment of a strong and diverse cabinet, smaller than those of Harris and Eves.

McGuinty’s cabinet includes veterans of political office from the government of David Peterson such as new Finance Minister Greg Sorbara. The cabinet also includes government newcomers who none the less have wealth of other experience such as Labour Minister Chris Bentley who holds law degrees from the University of Western Ontario, U of T and Cambridge, has practiced criminal and labour law and has taught continuing education courses for judges, crown and defence attorneys and police officers.
McGuinty’s is the first cabinet in several governments to actually be smaller than that of its predecessors. Although premier Harris prided himself on shrinking the amount of government in many ways his cabinet was the biggest in Ontario history. McGuinty’s move indicates a desire to keep the executive at a reasonable size and under control.

2. Creation of a new ministry for Public Infrastructure.

The infrastructure of Ontario’s cities has been eroding for a long time and requires increased public investment. The upkeep of public infrastructure, like roads and sewers, is one of the most basic responsibilities government has. Hopefully this new ministry indicates a new commitment.

3.Canceling tax deductions for private schools.

Publicly funded schools have been at the heart of creating a well education, responsible, critical, tolerant citizenry in Ontario since the Common School Amendment Act of 1841. For the government to begin funding private schools undermines this system. Canceling these tax deductions shows a much needed re-commitment to public education.

4. Removing the private consultants currently operating the school boards of Toronto, Hamilton and Ottawa.

Education minister Gerard Kennedy has said he wants to remove these consultants prior to the upcoming municipal elections so that new school trustees can be elected. As McGuinty has said "we're going to move as quickly as we can to re-establish local democracy when it comes to public education in Ontario." Absolutely. Removing these trustees in the first place was an attack on democratic institutions.

5. Holding a public inquiry into the fatal police shooting of Aboriginal protester Dudley George.

For the entire term of the Harris/Eves government, both refused to call a public inquiry into this event. Finally, the public will be able to learn the details of the circumstances surrounding this event and the role played by politicians and public servants can be examined openly.

6. Freezing auto insurance rates

This indicates that the government is willing to take active steps to regulate the economy when there is a strong need and desire from the citizenry.

7. A guarantee to resume the legislature by November 19.

Under the Harris/Eves government the legislature sat for the least amount of time of any other in history, and Harris’s attendance record in his second term was the worst of any premier ever. By resuming the legislature before the Christmas break, McGuinty acknowledges that our MPPs work in the legislature and that the government is working when the legislature is in session.

All of these actions and proposed actions show a commitment to re-investing public resources in Ontario and acknowledging that the government can actively work for the improvement of the province. McGuinty faces a budget deficit and a great number of people who expect him to give them everything the Torries denied them. McGuinty will have to balance the budget and make people realize that just because he is not Mike Harris does not mean that everyone is going to get their way. So far, however, McGuinty is doing all the right things.

Posted by Matthew @ 8:39 PM :: (0) comments

Friday, October 24, 2003

BLOGSCANADA.ca

I have just discovered BlogsCanada.ca. I have not yet had much of a chance to look around at it but it appears to be a great Canadian blogging resource. It has links to all kinds of Canadian blogs, organized both by topic and region along with a lot of other neat stuff. If you are interested in expanding the scope of your blogging or blog reading you should check it out. I have added the BlogsCanada button to my page at the bottom of the side bar. Just click on that to link to the site.

Posted by Matthew @ 4:57 PM :: (0) comments

SLEEPING ON THE JOB

I know that justice is supposed to be blind, but I don't think its supposed to be unconscious.

The Toronto Star reports that yesterday an Ontario appeals court overturned the criminal mishcief conviction of Andras Deak. The reason: at the original trial on July 18, 2001 the presiding judge fell asleep. His Honour was re-awakened when council for the defence threw the book at him, so to speak. The defence attorney dropped a 2000 page copy of the criminal code on a desk in front of the slumbering judge.

Posted by Matthew @ 11:50 AM :: (0) comments

THIS BLOG HAS SEVEN DAYS

So far so good. My new blog has been up for a week and I'm loving it. Over the week I added a comments service and a counter. I have tweaked the template a little bit but would like to make some further changes. This will require, however, a greater knowledge of HTML than I currently have and don't right now have the time to learn.

Thanks to anyone who has been reading and particularly to those who have posted comments. Hopefully you will keep coming back.

Thanks in particular to Maderblog and Bourque Newswatch who have put up links to my blog from their own sites.

Also: Any comments on the blog are always welcome. If there is anything in form or content you would like to see, feel free to suggest it. Of course, its my blog so I may or may not act on any suggestions.

Posted by Matthew @ 12:10 AM :: (0) comments

Thursday, October 23, 2003

PREMIER McGUINTY

Dalton McGuinty has been sworn in as the 24th premier of Ontario. Profiles of the new cabinet are available here.

My comments on the new government later today.

Posted by Matthew @ 1:45 PM :: (0) comments

ELECTION PREDICTION

Colby Cosh is engaged in some electoral predictions, which to my mind is the most dangerous activity a pundit can embark on.

Nevertheless, Cosh looks at possible election outcomes on the basis of the new merger of the conservative parties. His absolute best case scenario involves the new party keeping all of the votes of the two old parties and, for the sake of argument, gaining the votes of the Bloc in Quebec. Even in this case the Liberals would still win a minority government.

When you take into account that many disaffected Tories are likely going to move to the Pual Martin Liberals and that given the sentiment of Quebecers previously disscussed here it seems pretty clear that the Liberals already have the next election wrapped up.

But then again, what did I say about election predictions?

Posted by Matthew @ 1:05 PM :: (0) comments

WHAT KIND OF WAR?

There is an intereting comments thread over at Maderblog relating to the nature of the so called War on Terror. The discussion along with Mader's subsequent post on the topic are all very usefull and bring up several issues in relation to the war.

What I found most interesting, however, was the assumptions behind the two arguments that questioned whether or not the U.S and perhaps the democratic nations of the world are actually at war. This thought reminded me of a question that respected military historian Desmond Morton asked of my Military History class in early 2002. He asked, "does anyone here feel as if they are at war?" No one in the class of fifty put up their hand.

Admittedly it was a class taking place in Canada comprised of mostly, if not completely, Canadians. His point, however, was that in the past when a nation went to war the citizens of that nation felt the affects in real, tangible, personal ways on a day to day basis. I think that the sentiment of my class is at least partly transferrable to the U.S. As an outside observer of America it seems that in a lot of ways, a lot of Americans do not feel as if they are at war.

I know the nature of 21st century warfare creates dramatic differences from the way wars were waged in the mid to latter 20th century and certainly the current campaign in Iraq has made the presence of this war much more closely felt. It seems however that if the U.S administration believes it is at war it should be trying to engage its citizens with the war effort to a greater degree.

I don't know how this should be done but it seems to me that there is a growing disconectedness between the citizenry and the administration's waging of the war. And if a government can wage a war with relatively little day to day impact incurred on its citizens what are the larger implications of this? On the one hand the fact that the U.S government can wage a war with relatively little disruption to life at home is a testament to the results of freedom and wealth. However, if the citizenry is isolated from realizing the full affects that a war incurrs, both abroad and at home, I think that in the long term this is potentially dangerous.

Posted by Matthew @ 12:41 PM :: (0) comments

ANIMAL RIGHTS?

Back in the day when I had just started up my blog I told myself that I would never blog about the big issues, namely capital punishment, abortion and euthanasia. Its pretty pointless because everyone has an opinion and no one is going to change it because its usually the result of deeply held ideological/moral beliefs.

The animal rights issue seems to fall into this category, or just about anyway, but I got into the debate on the phone with a friend tonight and my frustration level got to the point that I had to write about it.

To begin with I hate those folks over at PETA. I understand the drive to get into radical political activism. In the crazy days of my youth I have even participated in it. But what causes someone to step out into the world with the desire to do good, look around at all the human suffering from disease, poverty, starvation, and injustice and decide that the most pressing matter is to help... the ANIMALS! It seems to me that the only way that this should be a priority is if the state of affairs for humans was perfect or near perfect. Clearly it is not.

The brief summary of my position is this: All domesticated animals are someone elses private property. As such those people have the right to do with their property as they please, so long as it does not harm another person. If a person goes out and buys a cat simply for the purpose of killing it, that is his right. If a pig farmer does not use the most humane method of slaughtering his stock that is fine. I might be concerned about the mental health of the person who kills the cat, and I would definitely be concerned if the method of slaughter affects the quality of my pork, but I do not want either of these people being fined, jailed or otherwise punished for simply using their personal property the way they see fit.

Animals in the wild are a different situation. No one owns them and so governments should take steps to preserve them and punish people who hunt out of season and so on. But cows and chickens and cats and dogs? These animals would not exist in nearly the numbers they currently do if people did not grow them for our own uses.

Posted by Matthew @ 2:18 AM :: (0) comments

Wednesday, October 22, 2003

POLITICS OF LANGUAGE II

This issue I wrote on below seems to be gaining more and more attention in the national media as a result of the possibility of Mike Harris running for the leadership of the Conservative Party. In today's Toronto Star Chantal Hebert weighs in with her opinion on the matter.

Like Simpson she focuses more on language but does admit Paul Wells' argument that Quebecers seem unwilling to vote for a non-Quebec prime minister saying:

"Ever since Quebecers have been on the federal ballot, Quebec has never given a leader from elsewhere in Canada the time of day. Even Joe Clark, whose federal-provincial outlook was more in sync with the province than that of his Liberal competitors, still got the cold shoulder."

The root problem here seems to be that Canada was founded on the idea of an equal partnership between two cultures at a time when those two cultures were basically equal (in population, political influence etc.) and there was a willingness to treat them so. Today the two groups are much more unbalanced, particularly in terms of population. A significant portion of English Canada is willing to reach out to Quebec because they feel that's part of being Canadian. Quebec seems less willing to do so. Perhaps that is part of being Canadian as well, but in the future will English Canada continue to take on the majority of the outreach and compromise to make Canada work? I hope so but I think I'm more idealistic on this topic than most.

Posted by Matthew @ 2:27 PM :: (0) comments

WEST WING

The show is back tonight with a new episode after last week's unexpected absence (unexpected to me anyway). The plot summary is here and sounds promising. I am reserving judgement on the post-Sorkin era until I've seen a few more episodes.

Posted by Matthew @ 2:04 PM :: (0) comments

THE FUTURE OF BLOGGING

There are some very interesting thoughts here about the effects of blogs becoming really popular.

For me items number 3 and 9 are the most important. The recognition that blogging is a dialogue and that the lines between discussion and blogging have the potential to merge almost seemlessly is an important one. Item number nine follows from this idea. A well functioning democracy within society can only be strengthened by a greater flow of opinion, increased debate, and in general more communication between citizens. As I have mentioned below, I think that blogs have the potential to re-invent and revitalize the public sphere.

On a side note, I like this blog if only because it has different setting for people, like me, who are colour blind (whoo hoo). Check it out, although it probably doesn't really matter to people who see colours regularly.

[via Instapundit]

Posted by Matthew @ 12:32 AM :: (0) comments

Tuesday, October 21, 2003

THE POLITICS OF LANGUAGE

In todays Globe and Mail Jeffery Simpson writes that if the new Conservative Party were to choose Mike Harris as their leader they would have no hope of winning seats in Quebec because of Harris' lack of ability to speak French.

By noon Pual Wells had added his thoughts to this debate over at his blog. Wells argues that language essentially has very little to do with it. Showing a good knowledge of electoral history Wells argues that Quebecers, even today, are unwilling to vote for a prime minister from outside of Quebec, regardless of what his French is like, regardless of what his platform is. He writes:

"So what's it all mean? That francophone Quebec voters still do not feel secure enough in Canada's federal context to support a leader's ideas over his hometown. Note that the reverse is not true: the anglophone rest-of-Canada has often supported a francophone Quebecer (Trudeau, Chretien) over his anglophone non-Quebecois opponent."

After thinking about this through the day and after an e-mail exchange with Wells this morning, in which I disagreed with him mostly because I missed his point, I have come to the unfortunate conclusion that Wells seems to be more right. I know that there are many Canadians (I am one of them) who want our prime minister to represent the duality of cultures that our nation is founded upon. There is a sense that the French tradition is a part of our identity even if we do not have a direct connection to that culture. Far fewer Quebecois seem to feel the same way, particularly on the basis of election returns.

How does this compare to the past? Back in the 1840s, when the country was really founded, the upper most level of government was a true partnership. Robert Baldwin and Louis-Hippolyte Lafointaine served as joint premiers of Canada West and Canada East. By the time of Confederation Sir John (definitely an anglophone) was PM but in Sir Georges Etienne-Cartier he had an equal partner in everything but title. By the mid-20th century Mackenzie-King (another anglophone) was partnered with Louis St. Laurent, but by this point St. Laurent was less of a partner and more of a senior Quebec lieutenant. With Trudeau and Mulroney (both francophones) serving as prime minister for so long, the need for a partnership seemed to lessen. Quebec voted for Quebecois and English Canada was willing to vote for Francophones they identified with.

With the tradition of a partnership at the senior levels of federal government essentially defunct will Quebecers ever be willing to vote for a prime minister who is not Quebecois? The irony is that the Francophone leadership from Lafontaine, Cartier, Laurier, St. Laurent, Trudeau and even Mulroney has done so much to shape the idea of Canada and yet, as Wells says, Quebecers still seem insecure within this federation that they have defined in so many ways.

Posted by Matthew @ 10:16 PM :: (0) comments

Monday, October 20, 2003

WHAT'S IN A NAME?

Why Living in a Society ? Quite simply because we are. The social contract is mandatory, so to speak. I think the fundamental concept inherent to the idea of society is that it implies the relations of one person to others. I think that this is an essential characteristic of humanity. Man as man only exists as such in relation to his fellows. Society is not only the product of man but is the product of society. Humans require a way to relate themselves to the world around them and the primary way this is done is through others. If there were only one person left on earth he would invent someone to relate to, he would invent a society out of necessity (witness Robinson Crusoe, or the modern example: Tom Hanks in Cast Away).

The individual and society are inextricably linked. One cannot exist without the other. The primary mode through which this relation of one to the other is carried out is through questioning. By questioning the society of which we are a part we gain greater understanding of both it and ourselves. By questioning society we are attempting to transform the society that is into the image of society that should be. Through the attempt at greater understanding and transformation the state of society and ourselves is advanced.

Within the blogosphere we are operating in a consciously created society, a type of imagined community. A blog is a means by which one relates himself to others. It is both a mode of expression to society and a questioning of society. The interplay of one to the other is back and forth in a constant dialogue: this is the very essence of society.

So my blog title reflects this reality and it is meant to be a constant reminder that the primary obligation of living in a society is to question that society. To me a blog is an excellent way to do this.

Margaret Thatcher and the denial of Society

Now to the issue of Margaret Thatcher and her denial of society. In the Thatcher interview cited HERE via maderblog, Mrs. Thatcher says, "and who is society? There is no such thing!" I believe, however, that Thatcher posits this claim only out of convenience for the argument she is making. The problem with her argument is that she conflates modern government with the idea of society. She says:

"I think we have gone through a period when too many children and people have been given to understand 'I have a problem, it is the Government's job to cope with it!' or 'I have a problem, I will go and get a grant to cope with it!' 'I am homeless, the Government must house me!' and so they are casting their problems on society"

Note how she considers government and society synonymous and that society does not enter the picture until the end of her argument. Society and government, however, are not synonymous. Government is an institution created by and subsumed within society. Mrs. Thatcher claims that society does not exist only because she does not want individuals to be so dependent on a specific institution of society. This is fine but it does not mean society is non-existent.

Later in the interview Thatcher implies that there are only individual men, women and families but no society. First, to admit the family as a unit implies the existence of society, for a family is a type of society. Secondly, it may be possible to imagine a situation in which only individuals exist outside of a society; however, as soon as one of those individuals acknowledged, in some way, another then a society would be created. I am having difficulty imagining a case in which this would not occur.

Slightly farther down in the article we see that at the heart of the matter Thatcher and I essentially agree. She writes:

"It is our duty to look after ourselves and then also to help look after our neighbour and life is a reciprocal business and people have got the entitlements too much in mind without the obligations"

Precisely! Life, as she says "is a reciprocal business." This is what I have been arguing; the essence of society is a condition of reciprocity. And I agree that "people have got the entitlements too much in mind without the obligations." I have a feeling that the entitlements and obligations that Thatcher and I are considering are probably almost polar opposites but in the abstract we agree.

So, I maintain my position that society does exist and that we are living in one.

Update: Mader has a well thought-out response to this post over at his site. My quick response is in the comments section over there.

Posted by Matthew @ 7:40 PM :: (0) comments

QUESTIONS? COMMENTS?

You will notice that there is now a 'comments' bar at the bottom of every post. Feel free to use it. Agree. Disagree. Rant. Rave. Go right ahead.

Posted by Matthew @ 7:12 PM :: (0) comments

maderblog.com

My friend Mader has given me a most gracious welcome to the blogosphere over at his site. maderblog was my first portal into the blogoshpere so I thank him for that.

He also takes a jab at the title of my blog with a reference to one of conservatisms heroes, Margaret Thatcher. Rest assured that a proper explanation of my chosen title is forthcoming.

Posted by Matthew @ 4:39 PM :: (0) comments

SITE NEWS

I've actaully gotten a couple of e-mails about the site which means at least a few people have checked it out.

As I've said, this whole Internet web site thing is entirely new to me and I'm learning as I go, so there will hopefully be continual alterations and developments over the next few days and weeks. Among my priorities are further personalizing my template, learning how to alter the style of the text in my posts and adding a comments box so that people can respond to what I've written.

Posted by Matthew @ 1:33 AM :: (0) comments

Sunday, October 19, 2003

THE SINCEREST FORM OF FLATTERY

Today's Non Sequitur comic is a total emulation (dare I say rip off) of Calvin and Hobbes, in form, style and substance. Imagine Calvin as Danae (the girl), Hobbes as the horse, and Calvin's Dad as the father. The dialogue transfers perfectly. The first frame depicting an imaginary scene that amusingly segues into the 'real' scene is completely a device developed by Bill Waterson. The use of the animal to satirize human nature was, well not invented by Waterson, used supremely well in comic strip form by him. The interplay between Danae and her father is totally reminiscent of that between Calvin and his Dad. The cynical line at the end is totally Calvin.

Bill Waterson's cartooning in the eighties and early nineties truly re-invented and established the new standards of cartooning. Few can match his brilliance except through emulation.

Posted by Matthew @ 3:49 AM :: (0) comments

USELESS RANKING

In a desperate attempt to imitate Maclean’s Magazine the Globe and Mail has released their second annual University Report Card. For their part, Maclean’s has been criticized in the past for the methodology they employ in ranking Canada’s universities. But at least they have a methodology.

The Globe Report Card is so flawed as a survey and a ranking system it is unbelievable that anyone could take it seriously or use it as a valuable point of reference for anything. The survey was conducted by Uthink, an on-line youth marketing firm. This should give you some idea of what the real purpose behind this survey is.

The method of the survey is as follows: Uthink asked all of its subscribers to complete a hundred question survey on their university experience. Respondents rated their ‘satisfaction’ with their school’s performance in each category. Then Uthink ranked the results and the Globe and Mail published them.

Here are the problems:
The vast majority of student respondents have little or no way to compare the school they attend to any other single one, let alone all of the rest of the schools in the country. How are students at Trent supposed to know how their school rates in the availability of teaching assistant compared to the University of Alberta? How are students at McMaster supposed to compare their school’s career counselling to that of Dalhousie?
The survey does not account in any way for the fact that students at one school may be judging their situation based on criteria and standards far more rigorous than those at another school.

In his introduction to the survey Allan Gregg writes, "For example, Simon Fraser students rank its on-line library and teaching materials as one of the best in the nation, yet are among the most dissatisfied with their school spirit and the quality of student residences." This tells the reader nothing beyond the fact that SFU students like their library more than their residences. Yet the Globe acts as if they can assume that SFU residences are worse in absolute terms than those at Brock on the basis that Brock students rated their residences better than their public transportation system!

The next problem is the number of students who responded to the survey. Mr. Gregg titled his introduction "Why 26,000 students can’t be wrong." Actually they can be. At least in collective terms. The survey made no attempt to gain a representative sample of students from each of the universities ranked. This is Survey Statistics 101. Even I, the arts student, know this. Any school that received 230 responses was included in the survey. In theory, if only 200 Queen’s students responded their school would not have even been considered. Next we find out that the responses for individual schools ranged between 235 and 1,532. Clearly Uthink put a lot of thought into accurately representing opinion from various schools. If only 200 students from UofT completed the survey and 1500 completed it from McGill are we supposed to believe that we can objectively compare these two schools on a statistical basis?

This survey is so flawed, so methodologically unsound, so utterly useless as a point of comparison that giving it this much analysis is probably a compliment.

I submit that the real reasons behind this survey are the following:
1. To provide Uthink and the Globe and Mail with valuable advertising access to the lucrative 18-25yrs. age bracket.
2. To convince Globe and Mail board members that they have just as important a ‘national publication’ as Maclean’s does.
3. To be used as a point of reference to criticize the administrators of Canadian universities and academia in general
4. To drive me crazy by ranking such pantheons of scholastic achievement as Sherbrooke University, Laurentian University and the University of Victoria higher than McGill on ‘overall quality of education.’ (A slight degree of academic elitism? What did you expect?)

Disclaimer:
Yes, I am a student of McGill University who happens to believe that my school (the one that graduated Wilfred Laurier and financed Ernest Rutherford's Nobel Prize winning work) is the best school in the country if not the whole world. This does not mean that any of the aforementioned criticism is less valid.

Posted by Matthew @ 3:05 AM :: (0) comments

Saturday, October 18, 2003

ONE SMALL STEP

Alright. I just figured out how to put links within the text of my posts. For example check out THIS Canadian Press article at thestar.com.

Posted by Matthew @ 10:16 PM :: (0) comments

HEGEL ON FREEDOM

I'm reading Hegel's 'Reason in History' for a paper I'm working on and I came across a short passage that seems always relevant. Particularly with so much discussion, from all quarters, about the nature of freedom, especially in Iraq, I thought these thoughts from Hegel on the subject were worth noting.

"But the term 'freedom' without further qualification, is indefinite and infinitely ambiguous. Being the highest concept, it is liable to an infinity of misunderstandings, confusions, and errors and may give rise to all possible kinds of extravagances."

A good reminder to be wary of those who discuss freedom in terms so abstract it no longer has any meaning.

Posted by Matthew @ 4:35 PM :: (0) comments

MORE SELF-REFERENTIAL BLOGGING

I have told three people about my new blog, so it is probably safe to say that NO ONE is reading this right now.

The responses I got from people when I told them about the blog were less than encouraging. My one room-mate hung his head and laughed. My second room-mate doubted that I would be able to get it going. One of my friends, who I was talking to on the phone, laughed and said "that's not cool and exciting anymore, we'll see if blogs are still around in three years."

Certainly when you're trolling through the blogosphere, even to the limited degree that I do, you can get drawn into the sense that it has a far greater reach and significance than is actually the case. That most people have never heard of blogging and do not care is pretty clear when one is not online.

Nevertheless, I think there is something to be said for the blogosphere being a place where people can engage in dialogue about things from the profound and relevant to the frivolous and marginal. The immediacy of publications all reacting and connecting to one another make the blogosphere a place of on-going conversation. It reminds me of the explosion of print debate through pamphleteering in the 18th century. I think there is potential for the blogosphere to become a new type of public sphere such as existed in the late 18th century. One in which constant dialogue helps to shape new ideas. Not that anyone blogger in particular is going to reform society; but that the aggregate result would be greater than the sum of its parts

I think every blogger, of course, recognizes that a certain degree of vanity is inherent to blogging. Why would anyone want to read what I have to say? How can I compare the blogosphere to the print culture that helped shape western civilization? That these types of questions are recognized implicitly (and explicitly), I think, is a function of the irony of a post-modern age.

Posted by Matthew @ 2:10 PM :: (0) comments

FIRST PAST THE POST

Having just started up my own blog and being a history student I was interested in what some other bloggers wrote in the very first posts of their own blogs. I looked into the archives of all of the blogs in my links. Unfortunately, the archives for many of them were not available all the way back to their very first post. However, these are the results of my quick search.

Paul Wells, Sept. 15, 2003:
Here at Maclean's, we've decided you shouldn't have to wait a whole week at a time to read my ramblings. So just as soon as we can shake out some technological gremlins, I'll be launching my own Weblog here on macleans.ca. It'll be the home base for my more perishable observations on politics, life and the arts. Stay tuned to macleans.ca for developments.
And since I can't wait until the tech guys are ready to start spreading gossip, here's a down payment:

Matthew Yglesias, Apr. 14, 2003
(this was his first post after some technical problems with his site)
I'm Back
The website has returned. Currently missing is my stylesheet, my template, my archives, my plugins, and -- still -- my comments.

maderblog, Jun. 6, 2002:
First Post Test Thingy

That's just a sample from the limited number of blogs I currently read with any regularity. Unfortunately Colby and Ikram's first posts weren't available. The one I found most interesting was actually the one from maderblog. Not because of its brevity but because of the date. He started posting on the anniversary of D-Day. I doubt it was a coincidence.

Posted by Matthew @ 1:47 PM :: (0) comments

Friday, October 17, 2003

LINKS

I have figured out how to edit the links on the right and have spent the last little while doing so (whoo hoo). Basically, the aforementioned links are the sites I tend to visit most. They are all pretty useful or amusing in some way.

The first thing I tried to do was learn how to put links to other articles/sites within my posts. As yet I have not figured out how to do this. 'Blogger Help' seems to indicate that it should be pretty easy, yet it appears not to be so. It may have something to do with my operating system (Mac OS 9.x). Anyway, as I said: a work in progress.

Maybe I'll start writing some posts with actuall content soon.

Posted by Matthew @ 8:47 PM :: (0) comments

FIRST POST

I came to the realization recently that I wanted to start a blog. It occurred to me that I was sending out two or three e-mails a week to various friends simply on topics that I found interesting. It seems to me that instead of invading my friends e-mail in boxes this would be a more appropriate way for me to disseminate my thoughts and observations.

Having realized this I told myself that I would not start up my blog until I had enough time to devote to it to make it look good. However, if I were to do that I would never have gotten started. I realized I had to just start and learn about blogging as I go.

So, for the time being the blog is going to be pretty rough and basic. This will be the case until I learn a little more about Internet publishing and so on. It is a work in progress, but to varying degrees I think that describes most blogs or is perhaps the very essence of blogging.

Posted by Matthew @ 6:28 PM :: (0) comments