Politics and its Discontents

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Reflections, Observations, and Analyses Pertaining to the Canadian Political Scene
Mis à jour : il y a 25 min 28 sec

Something For The Winter Weary

il y a 8 heures 27 min

Others may find find they speak precisely for them:

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Why Has Accepting Scientific Fact Become A Matter Of Choice?

il y a 14 heures 4 min
Science takes things apart to see how they work. Religion puts things together to see what they mean. They speak different languages and use different powers of the brain.

-Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, The Great Partnership

As the quotation above suggests, the schism between scientific fact and religious belief is, in fact, one that shouldn't exist. Yet, given the kinds of absolutist thinking that permeate the world today, demagogues and zealots suggest the two are mutually exclusive, an invalid proposition if one's belief in transcendent truth manages to rise above seeing the narratives of the world's religions as literal truths.

It is always unseemly when people parade and exult in their intellectual limitations, often presenting them as virtues. For example, in Ontario, people like Progressive Conservative MPP Rick Nicholls has suggested that evolution should not be taught in schools, as he doesn't believe in it.

Sadly, such benighted positions, masquerading as informed opinion, do a disservice both to science and religion, not to mention public discourse in general. And it seems to be spreading, despite the fact that we live in an age unprecedented in its access to knowledge. Consider the almost religious fervour with which people disavow climate change, despite these facts: The debate over climate change is over. The U.N.‘s Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a report, written by 800 scientists from 80 countries, that summarized the findings of more than 30,000 peer-reviewed scientific papers and concluded: “Human influence on the climate system is clear; the more we disrupt our climate, the more we risk severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts; and we have the means to limit climate change and build a more prosperous, sustainable future.”Like the facts that make evolution irrefutable, the facts of climate change are treated by some as optional, a matter of belief, based on all kinds of specious reasoning, including religious ones such as asserting that God is in control of the planet. Perhaps people take living in a supposedly democratic age as license to suggest that any view is valid. Perhaps the right wing, emboldened by their ability to stir up emotion and hysteria, and enjoying so much influence in North America, feel that they have the politicians cowed. Perhaps the truly rational see little profit in getting down to their level to dispute with them. Perhaps it is because the uninformed and unsophisticated comprise such a large part of our population and show no interest in learning how to think critically, dismissing those who do as elitist leftists and alarmists.

I really have no answers here, but to countenance ignorance in any form, in my view, is to abdicate our responsibilities as both human beings and as citizens, and these are obligations we cannot afford to shirk.

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On Hatred And Fear

mer, 02/25/2015 - 05:44

Those of us who follow Canadian federal politics with a critical eye and mind will likely glean nothing new from Carol Goar's article in today's Star, yet it is nonetheless comforting to know that the depredations and demagoguery of Stephen Harper et al. are not being lost on the national press stage.

They hate our values, Goar notes, has become a new tagline in the Harper narrative. He used it on a Richmond Hill audience when talking about terrorists.

He used it when talking in Quebec about employees of Radio Canada.

He had his pull toy, Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney, use it in Washington.

As Goar points out, the language is all of a piece, to be placed alongside of past gems used against those who dare question Harper policy: imprecations such as 'soft on terrorism,' 'Taliban Jack', 'siding with child pornographers' all attest to the manifest unworthiness of this regime to lead Canada.

The sinister effect of such language is extensive, as Goar points out:
It has already migrated from the realm of terrorism to the practice of journalism. It could easily be applied to pipeline opponents (already branded “environmental terrorists”). It could be used to deport unwanted immigrants or foreign-born citizens (already warned “citizenship is not a right; it’s a privilege”). It could be employed against parliamentarians who challenge the scope and constitutionality of government legislation (already labelled the “black helicopter brigade”).Such demagoguery has other effects as well:
-It yanks out a piece of the national mosaic, subjecting Canada’s 1.1 million Muslims to unwarranted suspicion and drawing a direct link between their religion and terrorism.

-It lowers the standard of political discourse. Canadians don’t normally use words such as hate, despise and abhor in the public arena.

-It precludes rational debate. It is entirely possible that ISIS and its followers are targeting Canada because its warplanes are bombing them in Iraq, not because of its values. But who would dare suggest that in the current us-versus-them atmosphere?

-It legitimizes the kind of discrimination that is surfacing at lower levels of government. In Shawinigan, city councillors blocked an application by local Muslims to build a cultural centre .... Across the country, people who know little about Islam are angrily impugning Muslim women who cover their faces.Being a demagogue is easy. History amply demonstrates this. Real leadership, cultivating the best in people's natures, is long and hard work. The Harper regime is clearly not up to the latter, as it has amply demonstrated time and time again.
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Harper's Contempt For Thinking Canadians Is Egregious

mar, 02/24/2015 - 14:02
That is the only conclusion I can draw, based on the unseemly hurry the regime is in to pass its 'anti-terror' bill:
The Conservatives are pushing to devote just three meetings to hearing expert testimony on the government's proposed anti-terrorism bill when it goes to the public safety committee for review, CBC News has learned.

Sources say that one of those days would be taken up by Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney and departmental officials, leaving just two meetings to hear from outside experts.For obvious reasons, the Harperites want nothing to do with the witness list the NDP wants to put forward, which includes former prime ministers Jean Chrétien, Joe Clark, Paul Martin and John Turner and six retired Supreme Court justices. As well, they
also want to hear from three former members of the secretive Security Intelligence Review Committee that oversees CSIS operations: Bob Rae, Roy Romanow and Frances Lankin.The depth of Harper contempt for thought, reflection and reason, as opposed to his preferred method of reflexive campaigning and reactionary legislation, is evident in his response to Thomas Mulcair during question period:
Tom Mulcair challenged Prime Minister Stephen Harper to commit to a full review at committee — one in which, he said, "security experts and human rights experts [will be] not only heard, but listened to."

In response, Harper called Mulcair's criticism of the bill "ridiculous."Precisely the reaction I have when anyone suggests our Chief Demagogue has been good for Canada.

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More Warnings About Bill C-51

mar, 02/24/2015 - 06:18

H/t The Globe and Mail

Increasingly disenchanted Globe readers weigh in with their thoughts:
Re Kenney Spurns Calls To Increase Security Oversight (Feb. 23):

The Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC) only reviews security-agency operations after the fact. Defence Minister Jason Kenney and the Prime Minister maintain that we don’t need oversight of the agencies’ day-to-day operations. That’s like saying we don’t need referees in professional hockey, it’s sufficient for someone to review the tape after the fact and penalize the players if they broke the rules. Does anyone seriously think the players wouldn’t behave differently without referees?

The PM says judges will provide the necessary oversight, but that’s only required if the security agencies plan something illegal. Continuing the analogy, it’s like expecting the players to check in with the referee before the hit.

National security shouldn’t be a self-policing game of shinny. This is serious.

Jason Scott, Ottawa


Once lost, freedom is hard to regain. As Canadians, we must demand that our politicians protect our society – not just from the threats of the few, but most importantly from the threat we impose on ourselves when we give too much power to too few people, with too little oversight and too little accountability.

John Rudan, Kingston


Stephen Harper wanted to run on his economic record, but the economy is heading south. So the new anti-terror legislation will have to do. He just has to convince enough people he can protect them. Then they’ll not only accept giving up their Charter rights, but will vote for his party.

Almost anything can qualify as terrorism under Bill C-51, especially now that the RCMP has set its sights on environmentalists (RCMP Express Alarm Over ‘Anti-Petroleum’ Ideologists – Feb. 17).

I’m scared, but it’s not terrorism in Canada that scares me.

Tia Leschke, Sooke, B.C.Recommend this Post

Canadian Political Reporting Suffers Another Blow

lun, 02/23/2015 - 08:41
But this time, the blow comes from within.

Thanks to Ed Tanas for bringing the following to my attention:
Ottawa reporters, photographers and cameramen face expulsion from Parliament Hill on the complaint of any politician or federal employee, with grievances to be heard at closed-door disciplinary hearings. The unprecedented measures are proposed by the Parliamentary Press Gallery, a volunteer group representing media.

“We thought we’d bring the proposal,” said Laura Payton, Gallery president, a CBC writer; “We’re leaving it quite open because the executive needs some discretion.”On first blush, the proposals might seem reasonable, given the prevalence of harassment claims these past many months:
Under proposed amendments, members may be expelled for a range of new offences including:

•“personal harassment”;
•“sexual harassment”;
•“threats of violence”;
•“a criminal offence that was or could have been tried by way of indictment and for which the member has been found guilty”.But, as the hackneyed saying goes, the devil is in the details. Perhaps the most telling detail:
The Gallery proposed to amend its own constitution, with the approval of Industry Minister James Moore, [emphasis mine]to suspend or banish media from Parliament Hill for a range of new offences including “harassment” and “intimidation”.A reasonable person will immediately see that any involvement, let alone approval, of a politician cannot bode well for freedom of the press. Consider, for example, Herr Harper's recent inflammatory remarks about Radio Canada employees hating conservative values. Consider his government's egregious contempt for the media and the fact that the only time Harper seems even remotely accessible is when he is outside the country. Consider the fact that we are groaning under the most vindictive and paranoid prime minister this country has ever known.

So what do the experts think of these proposed amendments?
“The press should be held to account, but is this the instrument?” said Prof. Sean Holman, of Mount Royal University’s school of journalism. “I think it’s open to abuse.” Holman, a former member of the British Columbia Press Gallery, said he was unaware of any Canadian gallery with such an enforcement code.

“Reporters covering legislatures are often treated like parasites and barely tolerated by the administration,” Holman said. “The administration has enormous power. We should really think about that. How is it that this space that is supposed to be a public space is so often treated as anything but? That is troubling.”Especially worrisome is the readiness with which the Press Gallery will cede authority to the politicians it is charged with covering:
The amendment also states the Gallery may defer to “House administration” if complaints against a journalist are deemed a “security concern”. The head of House administration is Conservative MP Andrew Scheer (Regina-Qu’Appelle), Speaker of the House of Commons.

In the past, parliamentary journalists never deferred to the Speaker and operated as a self-regulating association in a custom dating from 1867, noted Mark Bourrie, a 21-year gallery member and author of the bestseller Kill The Messenger: Stephen Harper’s Assault On Your Right To Know.I am completely dumbfounded by this development. The amendments go to a membership vote February 27. Let us hope that they will act accordingly against this unprecedented assault on their independence.
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Thomas Mulcair And Joe Clark On Bill C-51

lun, 02/23/2015 - 04:53

H/t The Toronto Star

Yesterday, Tom Clark on The West Block asked both Mulcair and Clark for their thoughts on Harper's 'anti-terror' legislation. You will note that by the end of the interview, it would seem that Mulcair's 'principled' stand against the bill is perhaps less than what it seems as he hedges his political bets:

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I've Made My Decision. What More Is There To Discuss?

dim, 02/22/2015 - 06:10

H/t Occupy Canada

It would seem that our supremely arrogant confident demagogue, Dear Leader, feels little need to waste his time in the House of Commons talking about a bill (C-51) that represents a substantial threat to the rights of all Canadians. That, apparently, is a task for lesser mortals, but only if they can talk fast.

The Ottawa Citizen reports the following:
Despite hailing new anti-terror legislation as fundamental to the fight against “the most dangerous enemies our world has ever faced,” Prime Minister Stephen Harper did not attend either of two days of debate on the bill in the House of Commons this week.

Bill C-51 is expected to head to committee Monday after the Conservative government voted to limit the hours allotted in the Commons on what Justice Minister Peter MacKay called an “important debate (over) …. extraordinary powers.”For anyone who might be puzzled, even outraged over Stephen Harper's absence from this “important debate (over) …. extraordinary powers”, these reassurance came via email from PMO spokesman Carl Vallée:
“The prime minister has spoken at length with regards to the bill when it was announced and in the House during Question Period.”But what about the curtailment of debate, also known as closure?

I suppose a couple of considerations influenced the Great One there. First, of course, is the fact that Justin Trudeau, no doubt influenced by the polls, is supporting the bill, and really has nothing to add to the 'debate.' And then there is Thomas Mulcair, who, now that he has rediscovered some principles and found out he is opposed to the bill, has much to say. However, as Mr. Harper observed in his usual style when presented with a substantive question about whether the bill could be used against the government's political enemies, employed his usual contemptuous denigration by characterizing the NDP as 'the black helicopter crowd' always game for conspiracy theories:

And so Canada's very own Ozmandias continues on his merry way, content in his belief that his personal vanity production, the Government of Canada, will continue far into the future under his mighty vision.

A shame that Stephen Harper is not a reader of poetry.

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Ralph Nader On Harper's Politics Of Fear

sam, 02/21/2015 - 12:09

The following is a letter that the iconic American activist Ralph Nader has written to Stephen Harper regarding his 'war on terror.' Following the letter is a video of an interview Evan Solomon had with him. As you will see, there is little doubt that Nader views Harper's exploitation of fear as decidedly unCanadian.
Many Americans love Canada and the specific benefits that have come to our country from our northern neighbour’s many achievements (see Canada Firsts by Nader, Conacher and Milleron). Unfortunately, your latest proposed legislation — the new anti-terrorism act — is being described by leading Canadian civil liberties scholars as hazardous to Canadian democracy.

A central criticism was ably summarized in a February 2015 Globe and Mail editorial titled “Parliament Must Reject Harper’s Secret Policeman Bill,” to wit:

“Prime Minister Stephen Harper never tires of telling Canadians that we are at war with the Islamic State. Under the cloud of fear produced by his repeated hyperbole about the scope and nature of the threat, he now wants to turn our domestic spy agency into something that looks disturbingly like a secret police force.

“Canadians should not be willing to accept such an obvious threat to their basic liberties. Our existing laws and our society are strong enough to stand up to the threat of terrorism without compromising our values.”

Particularly noticeable in your announcement were your exaggerated expressions that exceed the paranoia of Washington’s chief attack dog, former vice-president Dick Cheney. Mr. Cheney periodically surfaces to update his pathological war mongering oblivious to facts — past and present — including his criminal war of aggression which devastated Iraq — a country that never threatened the U.S.

You are quoted as saying that “jihadi terrorism is one of the most dangerous enemies our world has ever faced” as a predicate for your gross overreaction that “violent jihadism seeks to destroy” Canadian “rights.” Really? Pray tell, which rights rooted in Canadian law are “jihadis” fighting in the Middle East to obliterate? You talk like George W. Bush.
How does “jihadism” match up with the lives of tens of millions of innocent civilians, destroyed since 1900 by state terrorism — west and east, north and south — or the continuing efforts seeking to seize or occupy territory?

Reading your apoplectic oratory reminds one of the prior history of your country as one of the world’s peacekeepers from the inspiration of Lester Pearson to the United Nations. That noble pursuit has been replaced by deploying Canadian soldiers in the belligerent service of the American Empire and its boomeranging wars, invasions and attacks that violate our constitution, statutes and international treaties to which both our countries are signatories.

What has all this post-9/11 loss of American life plus injuries and sickness, in addition to trillions of American tax dollars, accomplished? Has it led to the stability of those nations invaded or attacked by the U.S. and its reluctant western “allies”? Just the opposite, the colossal blowback evidenced by the metastasis of Al Qaeda’s offshoots and similar new groups like the self-styled Islamic State are now proliferating in and threatening over a dozen countries.

Have you digested what is happening in Iraq and why prime minister Jean Chrétien said no to Washington? Or now chaotic Libya, which like Iraq never had any presence of Al Qaeda before the U.S.’s destabilizing military attacks? (See the New York Times’ editorial on Feb. 15, 2015, titled “What Libya’s Unraveling Means”.)

Perhaps you will find a former veteran CIA station chief in Islamabad, Pakistan, Robert L. Grenier more credible. Writing in his just released book, 88 Days to Kandahar: A CIA Diary, he sums up U.S. government policy this way: “Our current abandonment of Afghanistan is the product of a . . . colossal overreach, from 2005 onwards.” He writes, “in the process we overwhelmed a primitive country, with a largely illiterate population, a tiny agrarian economy, a tribal social structure and nascent national institutions. We triggered massive corruption through our profligacy; convinced a substantial number of Afghans that we were, in fact, occupiers and facilitated the resurgence of the Taliban” (Alissa J. Rubin, Robert L. Grenier’s ‘88 Days to Kandahar,’ New York Times, Feb. 15, 2015).

You may recall George W. Bush’s White House counterterrorism czar, Richard Clarke, who wrote in his 2004 book, Against All Enemies: Inside America’s War on Terror — What Really Happened, “It was as if Osama bin Laden, hidden in some high mountain redoubt, were engaging in long-range mind control of George Bush, chanting, ‘Invade Iraq, you must invade Iraq.’”

Mr. Bush committed sociocide against that country’s 27 million people. Over one million innocent Iraqi civilians lost their lives, in addition to millions sick and injured. Refugees have reached five million and growing. He destroyed critical public services and sparked sectarian massacres — massive war crimes, which in turn produce ever-expanding blowbacks.

Canadians might be most concerned about your increased dictatorial policies and practices, as well as this bill’s provision for secret law and courts in the name of fighting terrorism — too vaguely defined. Study what comparable practices have done to the United States — a course that you seem to be mimicking, including the militarization of police forces (see The Walrus, December 2014).

If passed, this act, piled on already stringent legal authority, will expand your national security bureaucracies and their jurisdictional disputes, further encourage dragnet snooping and roundups, fuel fear and suspicion among law-abiding Canadians, stifle free speech and civic action and drain billions of dollars from being used for the necessities of Canadian society. This is not hypothetical. Along with an already frayed social safety net, once the envy of the world, you almost got away with a $30-billion purchase of unneeded costly F-35s (including maintenance) to bail out the failing budget-busting F-35 project in Washington.

You may think that Canadians will fall prey to a politics of fear before an election. But you may be misreading the extent to which Canadians will allow the attachment of their Maple Leaf to the aggressive talons of a hijacked American Eagle.

Canada could be a model for independence against the backdrop of bankrupt American military adventures steeped in big business profits . . . a model that might help both nations restore their better angels.

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Stephen Harper To Canadians: Just Trust Me

sam, 02/21/2015 - 07:08
Of course we will, Stephen. Of course we will.

H/t Graeme MacKayRecommend this Post

Harperian Hypocrisy: The Family Values Regime Disappoints Yet Again

ven, 02/20/2015 - 13:02
While the Harper regime always touts itself as a government that stands up for family vlaues, evidence once more indicates this is little more than rhetoric and rank hypocrisy, aided and abetted by an almost completely politicized RCMP.

The CBC reports
RCMP have been holding back millions of dollars from the force's vaunted program to fight online child pornography, partly to help the Harper government pay down the federal deficit. CBC News has learned that over a five-year period, Canada's national police force Mounties withheld some $10 million in funds earmarked for its National Child Exploitation Co-ordination Centre and related projects, linchpins of the government's anti-child-pornography agenda.

The cuts, made partly as an RCMP contribution to the government's so-called deficit reduction action plan, have occurred even as the number of child-exploitation tips from the public increase exponentially.

The systematic underfunding is highlighted in a draft report prepared for Public Safety Canada, and obtained through the Access to Information Act.For its part, the Harper regime denies that the underexpenditures have anything to do with fiscal matters; it's just that the force can't find good people to do the job.

Really? And this problem goes back to 2008? Past evidence suggests that explanation simply won't fly.

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Rex Murphy Praises Thomas Mulcair's Stand on Bill C-51

ven, 02/20/2015 - 09:47
Regular readers of this blog will know that I have no particular use for Rex Murphy. Yet last night I found myself in total agreement with him as he offered an eloquent rebuke of Harper's Bill C-51 by praising NDP leader Thomas Mulcair's opposition to it. You can watch his reasons below:

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At Issue - Harper's Terror Bill

ven, 02/20/2015 - 05:23
I happened to catch last night's At Issue Panel discussing Harper's (anti) terror legislation, Bill C-51. One of the interesting points that emerged was that although polls show the vast majority of Canadians seem to support this legislation (based, I suspect, on little or no knowledge of what it contains), another poll shows that Canadians put at the top of their concerns jobs and the economy. This led to the observation that simply because Canadians back the bill does not readily translate into a vote for the Harper regime in the next election.

All in all, an interesting parsing of the politics surrounding Bill C-51 by Andrew Coyne, Chantal Hebert and Jennifer Ditchburn.

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Diseased Leadership

jeu, 02/19/2015 - 06:28

Almost four years ago I wrote a post on failed leadership, using the Elizabethan notion of The Great Chain of Being as it pertained to the relationship between the governed and those who govern. In essence it postulated that if the leader was good, the nation would prosper, but if bad, it would suffer. That suffering could take many forms, including the corruption of the people.

In many ways, it echoes what has happened in our modern age. Instead of inspiring and cultivating the best in the people, our leaders often seem far too intent on bringing out the worst in us, appealing not to our nobler impulses but our darker ones. Greed, self-interest, and suspicion abounds as our demagogues bray about 'the other' and ignore the collective.

A letter in today's Star, I think, very effectively captures how Canadians and the larger world have been adversely affected by the diseased leadership of Stephen Harper these past long nine years:
Re: Harper plays politics of hate, weakens our democracy, Opinion Feb. 15

Thanks for the excellent column on the damage that Stephen Harper and his ilk are doing to our society. People who I always thought were tolerant and open are picking up on his hateful venom. Even worse, he is cynically using this to get votes.

I hope it backfires and people see through it. I’m dismayed that the opposition parties are not calling him out on this but they too seem to be afraid to call it what it is — hate mongering.

I lived in three Muslim countries — Nigeria, Algeria and Oman — for a total of two years in the 1970s and now hardly recognize them. I lived in the northeast of Nigeria for almost a year while leading a Canadian and Nigerian team of surveyors and explorers mapping the whole northeast part of Nigeria. The situation there has almost brought me to tears when I see the terrible things that Boko Haram is doing to innocent people in the name of religion.

I felt the same way a few years ago when Muslim fanatics were killing entire villages in Algeria. Many of the towns where the violence is taking place in Nigeria are towns that I spend months in and where I made many local friends. They were peaceful places when I was there in 1974.

The whole Muslim world is suffering from the collapse of the world’s 19th century empires and the battle for control of oil in the Middle East. Unfortunately, the stability provided by the Ottomans has not been replaced and this battle for control will continue for some time yet.

Yuval Noah Harari in his book Sapiens points out that the situation in the Middle East since the end of World War I, with no empire in control, is unprecedented in the last 2,000 years or more. Islam has suffered the same damage in this battle as Christianity did in the European religious wars of the 16th century. Protestants and Catholics killed each other for a long time and their theology is far closer than Sunni and Shia Islam. It really wasn’t about religion but for control of political power and resources, as it is today in the Muslim world.

Canada needs to recognize this and, at the very least, do no more harm, like Harper is doing both here and in the Middle East. We may not be able to achieve much in the short term in settling this huge problem of bringing stability to the region but being cheerleaders for Israel certainly isn’t helping.

We need to be even-handed and do all we can to support those who wish to bring peace and stability through democracy, the rule of law rather than dictators, tolerance, economic development and many more building blocks of civil society.

Maybe the collapse of the oil market and ultimately the replacement of oil by renewable electricity for transportation will allow the citizens of the Muslim world to begin solving their problems without interference from others protecting their grip on oil.

I went to the movie American Sniper and was saddened by the glorification of the killing of Iraqis who, misguided or not, were protecting their country from foreign invaders there to take their oil. It’s going to take some time to change attitudes.

Alex Miller, TorontoRecommend this Post

Cry Me A River

mer, 02/18/2015 - 12:31

The frequently lachrymose Dean Del Mastro has yet another reason for tears:
An Ontario judge has dismissed former Conservative MP Dean Del Mastro’s attempt to have a mistrial declared in his election overspending case.

Del Mastro will appear before Cameron in Lindsay, Ont., on Thursday, where sentencing arguments are expected to be made in his case.

He was found guilty of exceeding spending limits, failing to report a personal contribution of $21,000 to his own campaign and knowingly submitting a falsified document.

He faces a maximum penalty of one year in jail and a $2,000 fine on each of the three convictions.It would seem that Justice Lisa Cameron did not agree with the assertion of the disgraced former top Harper operative and defender that her finding him guilty was only her opinion.

And that of millions of other Canadians, he might have added.Recommend this Post

On Egregious Stupidity And Willful Ignorance

mer, 02/18/2015 - 09:20

I readily admit to being intolerant of people at times. Not for me are the excuses that others may make for their shortcomings, such as the limitations of their upbringing, their education, or their natural abilities.

At the top of my list are those who either embrace or promote egregious stupidity and willful ignorance. And while no part of the political spectrum is exempt from such offenders, they do seem to be disproportionately represented by the right. Anti-vaxxers, climate change deniers, and ardent supporters of the Harper regime readily come to mind.

Lazy thinking is no substitute for critical thinking, and while the latter, I am convinced, cannot happen without a a good education, whether formal or acquired through wide reading, there is no assurance that those who call themselves educated are in fact able to think critically. Bias, tunnel vision, and a myriad of other factors can militate against that capacity.

Given how much the Harper regime has invested in promoting and exploiting ignorance and stupidity (a look at some of its convoluted rhetoric around Bill C-51 offers ample illustration), now seems to be a propitious time to examine a few basic guidelines that can help promote better thinking.

My first source is an article from The Hamilton Spectator whose purpose was to help people think more rigorously about the science around vaccinations, but most are readily transferable to other topics as well:
Here are 10 questions to ask yourself when you read a piece about science and medicine:

1. Who's saying it and what's their reputation?

2. Where and how are the results being presented?

3. Who paid for the work and who pays the researcher?

4. Are you reading anecdotes or evidence?

5. Are there comments from an arm's length unbiased expert? How does that fit in to the picture?

6. What do the numbers really tell me?

7. How large was the study? (Generally, the bigger, the better.)

8. How was the study carried out? A test tube? Mouse? Dying patient? Healthy patient? (The closer the results are to the general population, the more important they are.)

9. How substantial are the benefits and how big are the risks?

10. Are opposing viewpoints included? If so, what's their reputation?
An even better and more comprehensive set of guidelines is taken from a university website:
1. Ask questions; be willing to wonder. (Re. research problems)

To think critically you must be willing to think creatively - to be
curious about the puzzles of human behavior, to wonder why
people act the way they do, and to question received wisdom and
examine new explanations of why things are as they are.

2. Define your terms. (Re. operational definitions)

Identify the problem in clear and concrete terms, rather than vague ones like "happiness," "potential," or "self-esteem."

3. Examine the evidence. (Re. data: empiricism, reliability, and

Consider the nature of the evidence supporting various
approaches to the problems under examination. Is there good
evidence one way or another? Is it reliable? Valid? Is the
"evidence" merely someone's personal assertion or speculation,
or is it based on replicated empirical data?

4. Analyze assumptions and biases - your own and those of others. (Re. empirical/objective observations: biases and

What prejudices, deeply held values, and other
biases do you bring to your evaluation of a problem? Are you
willing to consider evidence that contradicts your beliefs? Can
you identify the assumptions and biases that others bring to their

5. Avoid emotional reasoning. (Re. empirical observations)

The fact that you feel strongly about something doesn’t make you
right! Remember that everyone holds convictions about how the
world operates (or how it should operate), and your opponents
are probably as serious about their convictions as you are about
yours. Feelings are important, but they should not be substitutes
for careful appraisal of arguments and evidence.

6. Don't oversimplify. (Re. Generalizations)

Look beyond the obvious; reject simplistic thinking ("All the evil in the world is due to that group of loathsome people") and either-or thinking ("Either genes determine everything about personality and behavior or they count for virtually nothing"). Be wary of "argument by anecdote," taking a single case as evidence of a larger
phenomenon. For example, reading about one chilling case of a man who murders while on parole should not be the basis on
which you assess parole programs in general.

7. Consider other interpretations. (Re. alternative explanations,or hypotheses; mutual exclusiveness and exhaustiveness)

Before you draw a conclusion from the evidence, think creatively
about other possible explanations. When you learn that two
events are statistically correlated, for example, be sure to think
carefully about which one is the cause and which the result - or
whether a third factor might be causing both of them.

8. Tolerate uncertainty. (Re. Theories and data: testing and

This is probably the hardest step in becoming a critical
thinker, for it requires that we hold our beliefs "lightly" and be
willing to give them up when better evidence comes along. It
requires us to live with the realization that we may not have the
perfect answer to a problem at the moment, and may never have
it. Many people want "the" answers, and thy want science to
provide them: "Just tell me what to do!" they demand.
Pseudoscience promises answers, which is why it is so popular;
science gives us probabilities that suggest one answer is better
than another - for now - and warns us that one day we may have
to change our minds.Recommend this Post