Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Drill, baby, drill.

Unbelievable. And what, exactly, will BC do when that oil and gas runs out?

Friday, October 17, 2008

Liberals don't get it.

The entitled attitude on display by some (not all) Libbloggers speaks to their continued inability to understand why voters would choose an NDP candidate -- or even (gasp!) a Conservative! or a Green! -- rather than the Natural Governing PartyTM. Don't voters know how awesome a carbon tax is? Don't voters realize that Dion is the greatest politician that has ever lived?!

Here's how it works, for those rational enough to shove aside the partisanship for a few moments. John Rawls famously distinguished a perfect procedure, an imperfect procedure and a pure procedure. A perfect procedure is one that has some external goal to be reached, and realizes that goal... perfectly. Formal deduction procedures might fit this. They are supposed to help us uncover the consequences of a system of axioms, and they achieve that perfectly (in some formal systems, at any rate). An imperfect procedure is one that has some external goal to be reached, and realizes that goal... sometimes. The criminal justice system is a good example. We're trying to determine who's guilty and who's innocent, but we don't ever get that exactly. But we have no idea how to improve on the system. So, criminal justice -- trials, arrests, and so on -- remains an imperfect procedure.

A pure procedure has no external goal to be reached. Whatever outcome comes out of the process is considered to be right because it is the outcome of the process. Sports are like this. While it would be nice if the best hockey team won the Stanley Cup every year -- "best" defined in terms of skill, for example -- the fact is that whatever team wins the Cup is, by definition, the best team. Winning the Cup is the standard for being the best in a season.

Liberals complaining about how awesome Dion is and how stupid voters (especially NDP voters -- which gets Cons and Greens off the hook completely) are seem to be thinking of elections as perfect or imperfect procedures. They clearly can't be perfect procedures, though, as sometimes the best party or person doesn't win. (Robert Stanfield, please stand up.) That they aren't even imperfect may be harder to see. But the fact is that if we want to pick the best leaders, then an election is an astonishingly bad way to do it. We already know who the experts in diplomacy, economics, environmental science, and so on, are. We could, very easily, simply turn the authority to make decisions on issues over to the relevant experts. The experts might need to have an election in order to break deadlocks and actually make decisions, but there's no reason for us to get involved. After all, we aren't experts and clearly don't know enough to make an informed decision. (This is very like Plato's system in Laws.)

If the suggestion is that the experts need to know what "the people" want, again, elections are astonishingly bad. Opinion polls would serve just as well, and might serve to eliminate some of the noise surrounding the signals given by voting. Voting isn't done just to indicate to the powers-that-be what voters are interested in: it's done for a host of reasons. For example, I voted NDP largely for spite: because I was pissed enough at the Liberals to show up and vote against them. (My alternative was not voting for some other party, incidentally; it was not voting at all.) I wasn't really trying to signal that I cared for some issues rather than others. Some voted "strategically"; so, reading off what they want from their votes is simple nonsense.

De Condorcet's jury theorem is often invoked here. This argument gets technical, so I'll skip it. But I'll note that I don't think the first condition for the jury theorem holds in elections, and I'm not sure the second does, either. (See the Wikipedia article for what I'm talking about.)

So, the defense of democracy as an imperfect procedure is a failure. And the reason it's a failure, I think, is that democracy is a pure procedure. Whatever the voters decide is, by definition, the right decision. We may not like that, but if we don't like that, then we are arguing against democracy. (An argument I'd be fine making; but I suspect many Libbloggers will not be.) Democracy, on this conception, means that voters cast ballots and however those ballots turn out, that is a fair and correct result. We might disagree with that result, but it has to be on the basis of a good candidate being unable to convince voters, or on the basis of good policies being ignored by the winner. There's no sense (literally) in saying that the person who won didn't "earn" it or wasn't the "right" one, the one who "should" have won. Whoever won was the one who should've won. That's what democracy is.

So, the rhetoric from some Libbloggers, as well as from some Liberals (like Ujjal Dosanjh), is deeply anti-democratic. And dishonestly so, for they don't connect the dots and admit they are attacking democracy.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Garth lost.

Frig. I didn't agree with him on, well, anything, but I thought his style of representing his constituency (and his engagement with everyone through his blog) should have been a sea change in Canadian politics. Instead, it's probably lost him his job.

Democracy in action.

I pulled some numbers off the Elections Canada site (as of 11:21 am EST today). These will probably shift a little, but not significantly. Here's how "democratic" our little election was.

First, here's the standings:

PartyParty standing%Popular vote%
AAEV Party of Canada00.0%5290.0%
Bloc Québécois5016.2%1,379,56510.0%
Christian Heritage Party00.0%26,7220.2%
Green Party00.0%940,7476.8%
NDP-New Democratic Party3712.0%2,517,07518.2%
NL First Party00.0%1,8010.0%
No Affiliation00.0%5,4580.0%
PC Party00.0%5,9200.0%
Radical Marijuana00.0%2,3190.0%
Work Less Party00.0%4230.0%
Total number of valid votes:13,832,972

Here's the utterly wasted votes -- votes which went to parties that elected absolutely no one. So, this excludes the wasted votes which either (a) went to a candidate that had already gone over the top or (b) went to a candidate that did not win a riding.

NL First1801
No Affiliation5458
PC Party5920
Radical Marijuana2319
Work Less423
Utterly wasted votes1,011,484 (93% Green)

Nice, huh? Here's the party by party breakdown:


16.2% of seats for 10% of the vote
1379565 votes, 50 seats
27,591 votes/seat


46.4% of seats for 37.6% of the vote
5205334 votes, 143 seats
36,401 votes/seat


.7% of seats for .7% of the vote
89524 votes, 2 seats


24.7% of seats for 26.2% of the vote
3629990 votes, 76 seats


12% of seats for 18.2% of vote
2527075 votes, 37 seats

And, what that means for the value of one vote for a given party. That is, taking a vote for a given party as a baseline, how did that single vote compare to a single vote for another party? A simplifying assumption is that all votes for a given party are presumed to actually count for something (so, votes that elected no one are ignored).

1 BQ vote# Conservative votes# Liberal votes# NDP votes
# BQ votes1 Conservative vote# Liberal votes# NDP votes
# BQ votes# Conservative votes1 Liberal vote# NDP votes
# BQ votes# Conservative votes# Liberal votes1 NDP vote

So, BQ votes were the most valuable votes in the country, NDP votes the least (ignoring, for the moment, that Green votes were utterly wasted). Liberal votes were marginally less valuable than Conservative votes.

Come on, folks. If we're going to have a democracy, we can do it better than this. Otherwise, why not just do away with the whole nonsensical system?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

One more time...

... if you're going to vote "strategically" for a Liberal to avoid the scary, scary Harper, then you're fooling yourself. No, the Liberals aren't fooling you. They've done that before. You're kidding yourself if you think the Liberals are, in any way, a party of the left that cares one whit about actual people. (If your politics happen to align with the Liberals and you would vote for them anyway, I have no quarrel with you at this point.) They are a party of the right, that has no problem in principle with the policies of the Conservative party. They may differ on the details, but they are a conservative (small-c) party.

Furthermore, the only reason "strategic" voting even exists as a concept is because our electoral system is broken. And the Liberals don't care. They have no interest in fixing the problem, because they benefit from it. So, this "strategy" of voting for the Liberals to block the Conservatives really becomes a strategy for the Liberals to create a base.

If you vote Liberal tomorrow, then do it because you think they'd be the best party in government. (I disagree with you, but that's the only reason to do it.) If you vote for any other reason, then you are no more than a patsy of a party that doesn't care about your problems, your principles, or your interests.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Transcending left and right?

Via David Eaves, I come to this about the distinctions between "progressivism" and "the left". (Incidentally, I get very tired of academics who can't be bothered to define their terms. What is progressivism? How is it not a position of the left? It's never made clear. I understand it's a popular piece, but, c'mon: clarity is important when you're throwing around technical terms to the general public. Anyway.) In it, there's a theme -- I don't call it an argument, it's not particularly rigorous -- to the effect that "progressives" can overcome or transcend the division between the left and the right.

What on earth does that actually mean? It's not the first time I've heard that line. But it strikes me that the only way it makes sense is if we define the right and the left in some incredibly restrictive way -- that is, in such a way that they are contrary (both cannot be true, but both can be false) rather than contradictory (one must be true, the other must be false). Which is fine, but I strongly suspect that there's some elision here. That is, the terms are defined, in the argument/discussion, in the former way, but then the conclusion is used to browbeat those who define the terms in the latter way. Which is a pretty blatant non sequitur.

Surely the issue that should really be driving the argument is that the old ways of understanding the left and right need some revision to address the institutional differences that now exist. Or am I missing something?

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Friday, October 10, 2008

Pragmatism and ethics.

This has been running through the philosophical part of my brain for a little bit (ever since reading Sami Pihlström's Pragmatic Moral Realism, a book I generally sympathize with, although I disagree with some of the -- sparse -- details of Pihlström's particular account). I don't claim it's entirely coherent.

We have to acknowledge that we are all born into moral practices and institutions which have significant impacts on our moral sensibilities. The time when anyone could seriously suggest that environmental factors are irrelevant is long past. I take it that most accept this.

I'm not sure that most have seen the consequence this has for the standard moral realisms and anti-realisms. Because these institutions, in a real sense, make morality (although they do not determine it). At least, morality for us -- which is the only sort of morality worth worrying about. That is, nothing is moral for us except insofar as some institution or practice licenses it as moral. ("Moral" read generally, not as equivalent to "morally good" or "morally right".) Given that, different things could be moral than are currently moral. In time, all institutions and practices die. (The same applies for practical rationality. What counts as a reason in favour of a certain action or against a certain action (and, indeed, how we evaluate these actions) depends on there being a stable set of institutions and practices which make the reasons salient, and define the ways in which and the extent to which these reasons are salient.)

This is not the same as relativism, though. For relativism, to be asserted, requires detaching from the moral practices. Relativism also asserts that any practice is, in principle, as good as any other. This is contradictory. Our moral practices do not assert relativism; they do not claim that any position is as good as any other, as long as it is generated in the right way. We assert, positively, that genocide is wrong, racism wrong, sexism wrong, charity right, kindness right, loyalty right (although we may disagree as to what counts as any of these things and the extent to which they are wrong and right). If our moral practices are what make morality, then we must deny relativism, for it adopts a stance which is either immoral -- for it denies the moral categories which are supposed to be salient for us -- or amoral -- for it denies that moral categories have any salience. In both cases, the relativist puts himself outside of ethical practice as it stands.

This is also not the same as constructivism. For constructivism asserts, with relativism, an indifference to the details of our moral practices. As long as the practices has dubbed something to be moral/morally salient, then it is moral/morally salient. Once more, this requires detachment from the practice itself, a maneuver which is either immoral or amoral. (The distinction between a relativist and a constructivist seems to me to turn on the extent to which they are skeptical about morality; constructivism has greater affinity with realism, relativism with anti-realism. This distinction may collapse under scrutiny, though.)

Finally, this does not make ethics arbitrary or subjective. Institutions and practices emerge over time in response to varying conditions, both genetic and environmental; they can also be seen as the result of collective choices made by rational agents. (I ignore whether these are the same process.) Given that, ethics must either be caused by fixed and prior conditions, in which case it is not arbitrary; or ethics must be chosen to suit the needs of rational agents, in which it is also not arbitrary. The result is not subjective because it is not taken as subjective by agents. I repeat myself here: there is no Archimedean point, no place to stand to consider ethics that is not itself embedded within ethics. The attempt to find such a point is either immoral or amoral, and thus worthy of condemnation rather than praise. Once institutions and practices exist which consider a certain set of principles, values, virtues, or what have you, to be the right, good, bad, evil -- to speak more generally, the moral -- ones, then, unless the institutions and practices certify this as a subjective achievement, it is an objective fact. To deny this assumes that the only real is the really real rather than the real for us, a notion which I am finding increasingly bizarre.

The point is that asserting the value and importance of institutions and practices for ethics requires taking the institutions and practices seriously. And to take them seriously is to not detach and view them from an Archimedean point, but to embed oneself within them and explore their confines. This position is an ethical pragmatism (at least in broad outline): practices matter and are, in fact, definitive of ethics, but we cannot thereby remove ourselves from ethical practice. Communities and related institutions matter, but they cannot be viewed neutrally. To take ethical community seriously requires being part of an ethical community, which denies the possibility of a neutral point of view.

Okay, I lied.

It's like a car wreck; I can't look away! I'm not going to bother critiquing all the nonsense coming out from the anti-NDP so-called "progressives". If they don't want to read the Liberal platform, fine; if they can't see how conservative (note the small "c"), fine. That's their choice, and I know, probably better than most, that no one can really be rationally convinced to accept anything they don't already want to believe.

However. The whole Dion/CTV kerfuffle is to be expected. Neither the Liberals nor the Cons are covering themselves with glory in this campaign, and given how insubstantial the differences between the two are, is it really so surprising to see Harper stooping to this level? I've seen the Liberal attack ads, folks ("Harper is Bush! Be afraid! Be afraid!"). The only difference is target; the approach is the same.

Thursday, October 09, 2008


Urg. Enough political anger for now. Tomorrow, I'll have something philosophical up that may cool the blood and stimulate the brain.

Fuck you, Stephane.

And now I have my reason to vote.

Hey, Liberals: even your own boy now admits he has nothing to sell but fear of the Almighty Harper. Your party's platform is conservative. Your party's recent record is conservative -- and Conservative, given how often the Liberals propped up the Harper government. Dion can't win the left on principle or on policy; all he has left is fear.


Oh, jesus.

Figures. I kinda figured, though, that the Cons would just reintroduce the copyright bill. I mean, hey, who cares if millions of Canadians think it's a terrible idea? They're the government and they can do whatever they like!

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Cherniak still treading the same tired path....

This is deeply amusing. I've tried to stay away from Cherniak's hyperpartisan nonsense, but really: has he even looked at his own numbers? He claims, given current poll support, 120 Cons, 93 Libs, 41 Dippers. That makes, total, 134 Libs/Dippers (so-called "progressives"). Which means that, if Cherniak actually wanted a "progressive" government, he'd be advocating that his boy Dion drop the posturing and form a coalition with the NDP. That coalition could vote down a Con government (assuming the Bloc doesn't vote to keep the government afloat) and petition the GG for an opportunity to govern themselves. (Indeed, although it's uncharted waters, a formal coalition might have the power to claim that the GG should give them first crack at government. I'd defer that question to a constitutional lawyer, though.)

Of course, partisan that he is, Cherniak doesn't want a "progressive" government, or even a progressive one. He wants a Liberal government. But, oddly, he's given up on actually admitting it.

Edit: 2:21pm: According to Wikipedia, there is precedent. The King/Meighen governments after the 1925 election. King (Liberal) was the incumbent, and exercised his right to continue in government, despite having fewer seats than the Conservatives. King's government lost what he considered a key vote, and he asked the GG to dissolve Parliament. The GG refused, and Meighen (Conservative) formed a government, which subsequently lost on a vote of confidence (after ruling for a few days). So, if the Harper Conservatives were voted down by a Liberal/NDP coalition -- or Harper decided he didn't want to face a Parliament containing this coalition -- then this becomes a possibility.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

This is starting to make the rounds...

...but it's a string of non sequiturs. It's about the US federal election, but applies here, too. The non sequiturs are obvious: the ad assumes that the choice you make by voting matters. Which, at least under SMP, isn't actually true. I live in Willowdale, which has been a Liberal blowout in the last three elections (counting the recent by-election). If I lived in a solidly "red" county in the US (and, y'know, could legally vote), I probably wouldn't bother either.

So, what's the point? Seriously?

Bob Rae makes it really hard to defend him sometimes.

Okay, look, the Rae government in Ontario inherited a mess from the Peterson government. This is beyond dispute. Rae fucked it up, Harris fucked it up worse, McGuinty is now cleaning it up in a somewhat hamfisted but basically well-meaning sort of way. In short, Bob Rae takes a lot of unjustified heat.

However, I find out (h/t Challenging the Commonplace) that Rae is running around telling people to vote Liberal because it's the best way to stop a Conservative majority. In other words, in order to stop the party that has between 65 and 70% of the population opposed to it from forming a "majority government", we should all vote for the party that has between 75 and 80% of the population opposed to it (70% on a good day). No, seriously, that's his argument.

Fuck this and fuck these people. Why should I bother voting, exactly? Clearly no one cares if I vote for someone who actually represents me.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

English debates (II).

I see Gilles Duceppe's appeal. If I were able to vote BQ, I might consider it. He's clearly bright, engaged, informed, and genuinely outraged about Harper.

Layton's currently running second to Duceppe, IMHO. He's got the outrage down, but he's not coming off as quite as coherent in terms of his actual arguments. Some of the lines are cute (the "under the sweater" bit, for example), but my preference would always be for solid and persuasive argument with cute lines, rather than for cute lines without the argument.

Dion and May aren't even in the game, really. May keeps throwing up all these obscure stats and years-old quotes from Harper; generally, her arguments aren't striking me as forming any kind of coherent position. (Although, why do they keep calling her "Elizabeth"? Maybe I'm missing it, but I don't hear the boys saying "Ms. May".) I don't think she's embarrassing the Greens as everyone was worrying, but she's not showing the Greens are a serious alternative to the other parties. She's not yet at that level.

Dion keeps making these milquetoast, off-hand remarks. And, frankly, he strikes me as a whiner. I have yet to hear a coherent argument for some policy which differs from the policies of the Conservatives, and would actually appeal to a progressive voter. And he keeps talking to the friggin' camera! Like he's trying to have some private conversation with the "people at home"! Whoever told him this was a good idea should be shot: it doesn't make his ideas better and it doesn't make his arguments more persuasive or rigorous. It just makes him look like a manipulative tool.

English debates.

How is Jack Layton resisting the urge to smack that smirk off Stephen Harper's face? Just asking.