Why Harper hates experts

Andrew Coyne demonstrates afresh why he is my favorite conservative columnist with this attempt to fathom Harper’s inexplicable vandalizing of the census. Money quote:

It isn’t just that the Tories habitually ignore the expert consensus on a wide range of issues—crime, taxes, climate change—it’s that they want to be seen to be ignoring it. It’s the overt antagonism to experts, and by extension the educated classes, that marks the Tory style. In its own way, it’s a form of class war.

Andrew Coyne-150You can see it in the sneering references to Michael Ignatieff’s Harvard tenure, in the repeated denunciations of “elites” and “intellectuals.” In the partial dismantling of the census, we reach the final stage: not just hostile to experts, but to knowledge…

The result is a uniquely nasty, know-nothing strain of conservatism. The Thatcher Tories, unlike their forebears, weren’t anti-intellectual: her cabinet contained some of Britain’s most fertile social and political minds. Ronald Reagan, though hardly an intellectual, did not demonize expert opinion, or pit the educated classes against the rest. Even today’s Republican party, as know-nothing as it sometimes appears, relies heavily on a network of think tanks to provide it with intellectual heft. Only in Canada have expertise and ideas been so brutally cast aside. On the level of principle, this is appalling. A society that holds education and expertise in contempt, no less than one that disdains commerce or entrepreneurship, is dying. To whip up popular hostility to intellectuals is to invite the public to jump on its own funeral pyre.

Surely it’s a stretch to argue that the American right in its current incarnation is informed by intellectual rigor. So why do I like Coyne, even — perhaps especially — when I disagree with him? A few reasons:

  • He argues from first principles, without bobbing or weaving on the fundamentals whenever some shiny bauble of political advantage for “his side” appears in the form of a clever but intellectually dishonest argument.
  • He argues honestly, never selecting or trimming facts to fit the case wants to make.
  • He forces others, most especially those who disagree with him, to reflect on the weak points in their own arguments, producing what John Stuart Mill memorably described as “the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.”

If only the left in Canada had an equivalent interlocutor, they might be taken more seriously. Jim Stanford, I suppose, is as close as we’ve got.

In the present case, Coyne notes with approval his Maclean’s colleague John Geddes’s assessment of Harper’s mistrust of experts. Also well worth a read.

Krugman warns: uh-oh Canada

Nobel prize-winning economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman did some research before a visit to Canada, and found disquieting signs.

His conclusion:

I’m not making any predictions here, just noting that if we go beyond banking to ask about household balance sheets and risks thereto, things up north bear watching.

Hint: Read the comments, too.

Hat tip: Tim Bousquet

Before Google went evil

Google wasn’t always a carrier-humping, net-neutrality, surrender money, and TechCrunch has video to prove it:

For those who don’t follow tech news, Google pulled a stunning about-face on net-neutrality this week, teaming up with Verizon, the very company it pilloried on the issue, in an agreement to abandon the concept of neutrality for fast-growing wireless portions of the Internet, and for whatever new transmission technologies happen along in future.

The do-no-evil company’s reversal stunned the tech world. Unabashed Google admirer Jeff Jarvis, author of What Would Google Do, called it a Munich Agreement, a description Josh Marshall of TPM Media said was “a bit inflammatory, but pretty much captures it.” Added Jarvis: “Pass the sauerkraut, Herr Chamberlain.”

Wired’s Ryan Singel, too, offered trenchant analysis, and dug out this ringing declaration from a 2007 Google blogpost:

The nation’s spectrum airwaves are not the birthright of any one company. They are a unique and valuable public resource that belong to all Americans. The FCC’s auction rules are designed to allow U.S. consumers — for the first time — to use their handsets with any network they desire, and and use the lawful software applications of their choice.

Google defended itself, weakly, in a blog post by Richard Whitt, Washington Telecom and Media Counsel.

To underscore the totality of Google’s reversal, TechCrunch produced this letter to Google users by none other than CEO Eric Schmidt.

A Note to Google Users on Net Neutrality:

The Internet as we know it is facing a serious threat. There’s a debate heating up in Washington, DC on something called “net neutrality” – and it’s a debate that’s so important Google is asking you to get involved. We’re asking you to take action to protect Internet freedom.

In the next few days, the House of Representatives is going to vote on a bill that would fundamentally alter the Internet. That bill, and one that may come up for a key vote in the Senate in the next few weeks, would give the big phone and cable companies the power to pick and choose what you will be able to see and do on the Internet.

Today the Internet is an information highway where anybody – no matter how large or small, how traditional or unconventional – has equal access. But the phone and cable monopolies, who control almost all Internet access, want the power to choose who gets access to high-speed lanes and whose content gets seen first and fastest. They want to build a two-tiered system and block the on-ramps for those who can’t pay.

Creativity, innovation and a free and open marketplace are all at stake in this fight. Please call your representative (202-224-3121) and let your voice be heard.

Thanks for your time, your concern and your support.

Eric Schmidt

Google has been a huge force for consumer rights in this incredibly important field. Its defection is a blow that will force defenders of an open Internet to organize.

Visual data: 2053 nuclear blasts

Isao Hashimoto, a Japanese foreign exchange dealer turned multimedia artist, has produced this bird’s eye history of the nuclear era in the form of an animated timeline map showing the 2053 nuclear explosions set off by seven nations between 1945 and 1998. Each second represents one month.

Hashimoto used no letters in the film, so speakers of any language can follow it. In the last two minutes of the video, each nation’s explosions are highlighted in turn, by location.

Hashimoto drew on data assembled by Nils Olaf Bergkvist and Ragnhild Ferm, and co-published by the Swedish Defence Research Establishment and te Stockholm International Peace Research Institute in 2000. Two explosions and one nation are missing from the film: North Korea set off nuclear explosions in October, 2006, and May, 2009.

Lest we forget Omar Khadr

Omar_Khadr_-_child-250Canadian-born child soldier and torture victim Omar Khadr, the only citizen of a western democracy still held in the US Government detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, went on trial this week in the first war crimes prosecution of a child soldier in US history.

Under Stephen Harper, Canada is the only western country not to ask for the release of its nationals from the illegal prison camp. The Harper government has flouted court orders requiring it to take action in support of Khadr’s civil rights.

The U.N. Special Representative on Children in Armed Conflict warned Monday that the legality of Khadr’s trial is doubtful, and his prosecution sets a dangerous precedent that endangers child soldiers worldwide. Radhika Coomaraswamy asked the United States to halt the trial.

Jennifer Turner, Human Rights Researcher in the American Civil Liberties Union’s Human Rights Program, sums up the background to Khadr’s prosecution:

Khadr, then 15 years old, was taken to Bagram near death, after being shot twice in the back, blinded by shrapnel, and buried in rubble from a bomb blast. He was interrogated within hours, while sedated and handcuffed to a stretcher. He was threatened with gang rape and death if he didn’t cooperate with interrogators. He was hooded and chained with his arms suspended in a cage-like cell, and his primary interrogator was later court-martialed for detainee abuse leading to the death of a detainee. During his subsequent eight-year (so far) detention at Guantánamo, Khadr was subjected to the “frequent flyer” sleep deprivation program and he says he was used as a human mop after he was forced to urinate on himself.

In closing arguments before the judge’s ruling, Khadr’s sole defense lawyer, Lt. Col. Jon Jackson, told the judge, “Sir, be a voice today. Tell the world that we actually stand for what we say we stand for.”

The military judge trying Khadr, Col. Patrick Parrish, dismissed the motion without explanation.

It’s the economy, stupid


A column in the UK Guardian by BC writer Douglas Haddow predicts trouble for Canada’s economy if an upcoming referendum in California succeeds in legalizing pot this November.

[Y]ou may have noticed that Canadians have been behaving uncharacteristically uppity of late. This new-found swagger is a result of Canada having the dubious distinction of being the “least-bad-rich-world-economy” – an honour that would be rather unimpressive if the rest of the G8 wasn’t so persistently gloom-stricken….

But beyond the chorus of self-congratulatory backslapping coming from Ottawa, there has emerged a new and immediate threat of economic crisis that is being willfully ignored by Canadian politicians.

This November, in an effort to increase tax revenue, California will hold a referendum on whether or not to legalise the cultivation and use of marijuana. If passed, the change in law would be devastating to the Canadian economy, halting the flow of billions of dollars from the US into Canada and eventually forcing hundreds of thousands into unemployment.

BC Business estimates that province’s marijuana annual marijuana crop alone at $7.5 billion, most of it exported to the US. The magazine puts BC’s pot labor force at 250,000, while Nova Scotia’s entire labour force was less than twice that in July.

Ironically, support for legalisation is stronger in Canada than it is in California. Canada’s most prominent rightwing thinktanks have long supported legalisation, as do the majority of Canadians.

And yet… and yet…

But since the Conservative prime minister, Stephen Harper, formed a minority government in 2006, drug reform has been wiped off the agenda and the gears have grinded into reverse. In a bizarre twist that defies all rational thought, the Conservatives have decided they want to go in the opposite direction of the Canadian voter and emulate outdated Republican drug war policies that have already proved catastrophic in the US.

The Conservatives have proposed legislation that would introduce mandatory minimum prison sentences for marijuana producers. If passed, the legislation would result in spending billions in order to put more people in prison – the exact scenario that lead California into severe debt and towards legalisation. Even more stupefying, police in Montreal recently raided a “compassion centre” that legally distributes medicinal cannabis, and Conservative politicians have started calling for medicinal centres to be shut down across the country.

Ah, but the Harperites only masquerade as Conservatives. They actually represent the Authoritarian Party.