Archive for December, 2011

To polemize or to blog is the question.

Sunday, December 18th, 2011

When Christopher Hitchens died the other day, many people learned about polemics.  Considered the greatest polemicist of our time, Hitchens’ work was for the elite.  He was no mere blogger.  He challenged lowly bloggers with his command of the English language.  He showed bloggers a finer future.  Polemicists such as Hitchens can take a controversial stand and use words and images as the artist wields his brush.  You did not have to agree with him but he could put you in awe of his command of the subject.

Polemics is controversy.  As a Brit, Hitchens despised his country’s pretentious royalty.  He was a revered atheist.  He was happiest when ranting for the causes of the left wing.  He was a civilized Philip Roth.  He betrayed those of us who believed in him when he supported the Iraq War.  That was how he made the point that nobody is perfect.

Hitchens proved that only the good die young.  He must have really pissed off God.  The rest of us are cowards.  The trouble is we want people to like us.  Hitchens got them laughing and then he would outrage them.  He told them God, Jehovah and Allah were all full of crap and he almost got away with saying it.  We advise you not to try this at home, boys and girls!

Hitchens could debate with the Prime Minister of England on the subject of dumping the Royals and win the debate hands down.  He lived in the United States later in life because he found more to laugh at there.  Living with a bunch of Brits can depress anyone.

His attitude towards the American right wing was outrage.  He understood that these people were among the stupidest on earth and could not believe that they thought they should be the world’s leaders.  He would expose their hypocrisy, ridicule their leadership, denounce their direction, laugh at their liturgy and denounce their demagoguery.  He agreed though that their basic problem was probably poor potty training.

Living in the Washington area provided him with a plethora of material to polemize.  Only living in the Vatican could have given him more opportunity for derision.  What might have shortened his life was that he was running out of intelligent opponents.  People were starting to be entertained by him when what he really wanted to do was inform them.

Bloggers can only learn from Hitchens as the master.  He knew his opinions and bon mots were of value.  He did not cast them as pearls to the swine.  He was not like the blogger who is a slogger in the fields of the environment.  He knew that people would seem to agree but you would know they could really care less.

Maybe Hitchens was right.  Blogging is just practice.

-30-

Copyright 2011 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

Transitioning those terrible tar sands.

Saturday, December 17th, 2011

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is always ready to spring to the defence of Alberta’s oil industry.  He thinks our tar sands product is getting a particularly unfair rap.  Just the other day he was complaining that some American banana company does not want to use any gas or diesel fuel made from Canada’s oil.  Mr. Harper claimed that our heavy oil pollutes just as much as any other heavy oil.

Do you see how those terrible tar sands are being transitioned?  It all started when people found out how much pollution got into the atmosphere when you extracted oil from the Alberta tar sands. The prevailing westerly winds from Northern Alberta are carrying hundreds of tonnes of pollutants across the rest of Canada.  Alberta gets billions of barrels of oil and billions of barrels of polluted water while the rest of us get the carcinogens.  To solve the problem, some smart oil company guy said:  Don’t call it tar sands, call it oil sands.

The only problem is that whether you call it tar or oil, it is still really gunky, heavy stuff that pours like molasses and is full of sulphur.  The oil industry calls that heavy oil.  It is nowhere near as desirable as the West Texas Light Sweet that always made the best (and the least expensive) gasoline for American-built automobiles.

But Canada and Mr. Harper are stuck with the gunk!  What can we possibly do with one of the largest oil reserves in the world?  It is rated at about 175 billion barrels and at oil prices around $100 per barrel, there are more than a few people willing to dig it up.  But now that he has transitioned the tar sands to heavy oil, Mr. Harper thinks he has solved the problems.  He has thrown the gauntlet to the industry to cut the pollution to acceptable(?) levels.

At the same time, he and his friends in the oil industry are going to ‘work hard to get the real information out there.’ He is not going to allow any more misinformation to be getting in the way of maximizing the profits from Alberta’s newly named ‘heavy oil industry.’  The problem for the environmentalists among us is that our economy has to have that oil to survive.  We can hardly back up to the days of the horse and buggy.

No doubt, sometime, maybe 50 years from now, the world will have developed technologies to free us from oil dependency.  In the meantime, we should make sure that polluters pay to clean up their own messes.  And maybe the banana company can explain how they can tell if the gas at the pump came from Saudi Arabia or from Canada.

-30-

Copyright 2011 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

Discovering the big lie–again.

Friday, December 16th, 2011

The copyright on the big lie theory expired centuries ago.  The ancient military theorist Sun Tzu explained misinformation and its value in his tome “The Art of War.”  There is little new in the way Canada’s Conservatives use lies for political advantage.  What is new is how stupid Canadians are who let them get away with it.

Simple misinformation is one thing.  That is putting a slightly different spin on things to make them more acceptable to the public.  These are not prevarications as much as sugar coatings to get the gullible among us to swallow something more noxious.  For example, when Defence Minister Peter MacKay wanted to use a Search and Rescue helicopter to leave a fishing camp, somebody suggested he represent it as an overdue training exercise.  It could have worked if the lie had not been blown by both military underlings and his ‘friend,’ the Prime Minister.

What is really stupid is to let a blown piece of misinformation become a cause cèlébre.  MacKay would have been far smarter to ‘fess up and play the incident for laughs.

But nobody was laughing in the Town of Mont Royal where the Conservatives were paying a telephone bank to tell people that their Member of Parliament was resigning.  That was rather insensitive when you consider that it is an electoral district with more Jewish voters than elsewhere in the Province.  For the Conservatives to try to laugh that off as a prank was particularly dumb.

That seems to be the problem with many Conservatives.  You can hardly be dumb as a stump and expect your lies to be effective.  Take Environment Minister Peter Kent in the House of Commons the other day when he explained his version of the Kyoto Accord decision.  After not allowing any opposition politicians access to the South Africa conference, he should not criticize them for not being there.  This annoyed them.

Stupid lies seem to abound in Stephen Harper’s Ottawa.  The one we have the least time for is the one that says the long gun registry does not work.  If it does not work, why are police chief’s across Canada saying it does work?

That is the same as the Canada Wheat Board.  It no longer belongs to the Canadian Government and is owned and run by Canadian farmers.  And Mr. Harper says he has been asked by the farmers to shut it down.  It seems to us that the ‘farmers’ Mr. Harper is referring to have never run a combine.  This is not a farmer-friendly decision.

It seems we have barely scratched the surface of the lies Mr. Harper is capable of during a majority government.  The next few years will not be fun.

-30-

Copyright 2011 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

Finding out who’s naughty and nice.

Thursday, December 15th, 2011

Tempers flared in Ottawa yesterday.  The usually unruly question period in the House of Commons got beyond the Commons Speaker’s limited control.  Unparliamentary language was heard and recorded.  Justin Trudeau MP was heard calling Conservative Environment Minister Peter Kent “A piece of shit.”  While not wishing to disagree with the young Trudeau, one appreciates that he was immediately contrite about such a remark.  The only thought that comes to mind is wondering just how spontaneous the shouted remark might have been.

When Justin’s father was Prime Minister, he was also once accused of directing a crudity at another erstwhile Conservative of the day.  In keeping with the times, Pierre Trudeau knew to deny everything and to introduce the term “fuddle-duddle” to Canadians.  Everyone knew that he had mouthed a very basic message to “fuck off” to the MP who was annoying him but the honour of the House was upheld by the denial.

But there is no honour in today’s House of Commons.  There is even less honour in the now Conservative-dominated Senate of Canada. Canada’s Parliament is run by one man.  Prime Minister Harper makes the rules and his lackey’s try to enforce them.  It is not just that the House must endure the fabrications of Defence Minister MacKay and the chicanery of Treasury Board President Clement but to have Environment Minister Kent so lamely trying to stonewall questions from the Opposition could try the patience of saints.  Somebody will have to tell Harper: ‘Kent can’t do it.’

When Pierre Trudeau once famously noted that Conservative MPs are nobodies when 50 yards from Parliament Hill, he had obviously not met the current crop of nobodies.  He would have used stronger language if he had to deal with these nebishes.

To young Trudeau, the challenge today is to cash in on his famous father while building his own strengths and awareness among Canadians.  He has to be his own man if he wants to carry on the dynasty.  He made the point clearly when he so quickly apologized for his unparliamentary language.  He knew that today, he was best to acknowledge what he said and he was not all that contrite.

What Justin really did was to steal the headlines from the NDP Opposition in the Commons and win the issue of the day.  Well played sir!

-30-

Copyright 2011 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

There are other blogs about Canadian politics.

Tuesday, December 13th, 2011

Hopefully that headline does not come as a surprise.  After writing this blog for the past three and a half years, the curiosity about what others write became too powerful an urge to resist.  It led to an interesting day of research.  Frankly, the most profound shock after hours of study is that there are so damn many of them.  Do all these people have that much time on their hands?  Can they not find gainful employment?

And who is Warren Kinsella?  Can one person really claim to have that much ego?

It is always interesting to read Andrew Coyne but he surprises the reader by falling into the most invidious of traps for bloggers.  He overuses the pronoun “I.”  It is an indication of lazy writing.

It was pleasant to note that the majority of the top bloggers are literate.  While Kinsella goes too far by using words that need to be explained, most popular blogs have Fog indexes in the 9 to 11 range.  (A Fog index of 9 means the writing is at a level easily read by a person who has had a year of high school.  At the 11 range, you are using some words that the person needs a few years of high school to easily read.)  Nobody is writing for dummies in political blogs but when you get an e-mail complaint saying the reader had to check three words in your last blog, you tend to cringe.

A possible exception to that is Jordon Cooper, a blogger in Saskatoon.  You have to not only be well educated and intelligent to read his blog, you have to be interested.  Once you figure out what he is talking about, it can be quite intriguing.

What is most puzzling about many of the blogs that were studied today is the awkwardness of manoeuvring around the material.  It is never easy and the way they tend to link their material, you can be six blogs away from where you started before you know what has happened.

If there is one basic beef that could be had with many of these bloggers is that they think they are reporters.  (Come to think of it, many of them are experienced reporters.)  Please do not read Babel-on-the-Bay for breaking news.  That is not the purpose of this blog.  What Babel does is look for insight that goes beyond a reporter’s analysis.  There is also a liberal slant to the material.  It is this different take that Babel offers.

What was also a relief to see was that other bloggers might only write something once a week or even once each month.  There is no urgency to do something every day.  You are invited to read and enjoy and discuss what the blog has to say but you are not paying for it and if time is needed for better paying activities, you might miss a few postings.

-30-

Copyright 2011 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

Not only the lonely.

Monday, December 12th, 2011

With apologies to songwriter and singer, Roy Orbison.

You do not always feel loved when being honest in writing about liberalism and the Liberal Party in Canada.  There are many liberals who enjoy the insights but probably just as many who feel challenged.  What we know for sure is that the right wing of the Liberal Party does not like being challenged.  They do not even like being called Whigs.

And what the Whigs do not like to admit these days is that there is a very strong and growing segment of the party demanding reform.  If you are ever going to really reform the Liberal Party, now is the time.  It is a time of a low ebb of Members in the House of Commons.  It is a time when struggling under an interim leader—one who knows the meaning of the word ‘interim.’  It is a time when it is tough to raise funds because nobody knows where we are going to go with the money.

But the old cliché is that when times are tough, you tough it out.  There is a very real concern today that almost a third of the Liberal Party’s electoral district associations are moribund.  They are moribund because they have no purpose.  They can be resuscitated tomorrow.  They just have to be given some control and purpose and respect.  They have to be responsible for choosing their Liberal candidates.  They have to be responsible for raising the funds needed for election time.  They must be responsible for the direction of the Liberal Party.  They need to be party to choosing the party’s leader—who will be responsible to them!

Is that too much to ask?

Liberals across Canada are also articulating those demands.  Some might not like the fact that Babel-on-the-Bay makes the demands public.  It is the only way you can reach out to the millions of Canadians who feel as we do.  And that number is in the millions.  Never underestimate the desire of Canadians to be fair.  Never deny their honesty.  This is not a country that wants to throw alms to the impoverished from gated communities.  This is a country where we all wish to live together in harmony.

The Liberal Party of Canada meets in conclave starting January 13 in Ottawa.  The slogan for the conference should be drawn from a gathering in Peterborough in 1967.  It attracted some backbenchers from Ottawa—one of them was a new MP, Pierre Trudeau—and some party workers and the meeting slogan was “Get off your ass.”  Our late Prime Minister used to laugh about things that happened at that meeting, but he always remembered that simple slogan.

-30-

Copyright 2011 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

Through the House, Not a creature was stirring…

Sunday, December 11th, 2011

The House of Commons is a quiet place when Mr. Harper is away.  And he has been away more than he has been present for most of the fall.  His Ministers run things as truculent children when the boss is away.  Defence Minister Peter McKay is on the defence.  Treasury Board President Tony Clement is in the counting house, counting all our money.  The NDP is arguing over succession and the Liberal rump is trying to figure out what a rump should do.

Most of the attention of the Ottawa Press Gallery in the past week has been on an Ontario native Canadian settlement on James Bay that nobody in Ottawa could spell or pronounce.  Charlie Angus, MP for the area, got the media’s attention for the squalid living conditions there.  There is a sustainable fishing industry there in the spring and fall but the natives are a long way from their traditional winter trap lines.  The area has been a sinkhole for government funding because of the costs of only being able to bring in building materials on frozen tundra each winter.

While there was some initial excitement over Mr. Harper giving the keys to Canada to Mr. Obama mid week, it was a non-event.  It was nothing more than a photo-op in Washington for the two leaders to say they agree on something.  What they agreed upon will be worked out later.  The friendly border between the two countries has already been wired and barricaded by the Americans.

The New Democrat search for a new leader is starting to warm up.  In the first all-candidate debate in Ottawa, those with inadequate French were busy ruling themselves out.  The race became more interesting in British Columbia.  B.C. has the votes to make itself heard and its reaction to the candidates was interesting.  It shows Brian Topp in trouble despite his constant emphasis on his supporters among the top echelon of the party.  Peggy Nash seems to be retaining her spot among the top contenders but Thomas Mulcair was on foreign soil in B.C.  He did not connect.

B.C. is home turf for Nathan Cullen and he won ground.  Cullen seems to be the only leadership contender who is really addressing the concerns of the NDP electorate.  He is talking about Social Democratic issues and he welcomes Liberal Party connections at least at the electoral district level.  There will be more to come on this race.

Meanwhile the Liberal Party has a crash program underway to get Liberals to remember their political party for Christmas.  They are turning out everyone possible to send us e-mails asking for funds.  The two most interesting lately were from Arlene Perly Rae and Hon. John Turner.  Arlene might be interested because of her husband’s future but who knows what the Liberal Party has done for former Prime Minister John Turner lately?

-30-

Copyright 2011 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

God Damn Bell Canada.

Saturday, December 10th, 2011

There.  We have said it.  Harold Ballard of Toronto Maple Leafs hockey fame can rest easy.  Fans now know who to blame for those awful Leafs who have not won a Stanley Cup since Christ was a Corporal.  And remember, Harold—God rot his soul—cared. Bell Canada executives hardly give a damn.  Even the Toronto-centric Rogers executives are bottom-liners and could hardly give a damn about the fans—unless they all stopped buying tickets to games at the Air Canada Centre.

The news that Bell Canada and Rogers have jointly borrowed enough money from Canadian banks to buy the Ontario Teachers Pension Fund portion of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment is a tragedy.  Even if you are not a sports fan, you should be aware of the perfidy involved. The confluence of cupidity has been years in the making.  We can start by blaming Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his friendly appointees to the Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission.  The CRTC has had the ball rolling in this direction for years.

Jean Monte of Bell had a vision of a confluence of telecommunications and television that went far beyond the understanding of the small town CRTC commissioners.  Jean Monte wanted it all and his Bell Canada came through.  The vision was so big, in creating the monster that is now ruling Canada’s telecom and television empire, Monte’s successors had to let the Rogers organization in on the game. Canada is now ruled by an unlikely triumvirate named Stephen Harper, George Cope and Nadir Mohamed and the CRTC made it happen.

All the CRTC needed to do was to refute its purpose.  It turned from serving the Canadian public to serving the industry it was supposed to regulate.  The commissioners first had to learn that Prime Minister Harper—minority Prime Minister or not—did not want the industry regulated.  He wanted the television networks to be given free rein as long as they supported him and his party.

In an unregulated world, television networks were allowed to buy newspapers.  Telecommunications firms were allowed to buy television networks.  Cable and satellite television firms could charge as they wished.  Telephone companies could charge as they wished.  Complaints from the public were being ignored.  It has become a dog-eat-dog world and the dogs are hungry.

Rogers and Bell Canada now have a lock on sports news in Eastern Canada.  If you want the scores faster, there is an app for that.  We only wish it mattered.

-30-

Copyright 2011 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

The phoney wars of managed conferences.

Thursday, December 8th, 2011

One of the best ways to sidetrack a conference from the real issues is to create controversy that detracts from what people really want to discuss.  A good example is the preferential voting resolution that now stands as the second most popular issue to be discussed at the Liberal Party of Canada’s biennial conference in January.  With this resolution, the party’s managerial class show that their managerial skills are slipping.

The preferential ballot question is a silly resolution.  Just read the first sentence: “Whereas it is recognized that first past the post voting systems do not properly reflect the will of the people in a multiparty country.”  “Recognized” by whom?  Who writes this B.S?  While we can all appreciate the frustration we sometimes feel about the first-past-the-post system of voting, like democracy, it is still better than the alternatives.

The people in Canada trying to promote proportional forms of voting are promoting mediocrity.  They want to enshrine the top-down management of political parties.  They want to put the political parties ahead of good candidates.

We have a system that can work for us.  It is a system that is strong only as long as the power rests with the electoral districts.  It is why democratic renewal of the Liberal Party is the most important resolution at the conference.

But the democratic renewal needs to be now.  Here again the managerial class in the party has failed the membership.  They are stretching out democratic renewal for at least three years—making the party wait until after the choosing of a new leader.  That is unfair to the party membership and it is unfair to the new leader.

And that is why we cannot allow the conference to be detracted with spurious debate on issues that the party need not resolve.  If people really wanted a new voting system, they would put it in the hands of a constitutional conference.  Such a conference would have elected participants from the major political parties, academics and experienced political experts.  It would work in the public eye, it would consider how people want their country to be run.  Its recommendations would then be put to a referendum.  For how we are governed is too important a question to be left to politicians.

-30-

Copyright 2011 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

Sheila, we hardly knew yah.

Wednesday, December 7th, 2011

Sheila Copps is back.  You would think that a left-wing Liberal such as Sheila would be simpatico with us but the truth is she follows different drummers.

A product of the rough and ready politics of Hamilton, Ontario, Sheila is her father’s daughter.  Vic Copps was a tough guy, always a contender and a real Liberal.  Starting out as a reporter, Sheila wanted to follow her father’s ambitions.  She meant to follow his road to Queen’s Park as a provincial politician but was lucky to lose.  That lead to a 20-year career in Ottawa—going from the Rat Pack to Deputy Prime Minister.

And Sheila is nobody’s “Baby.”  Feisty and ferocious, she was a strong speaker, strong willed and out to prove something.  She just never said what it was.  She never seems to pick her battles well.

Sheila moved from the opposition benches to the Deputy Prime Minister’s spot after the election of 1993.  She seemed to have been chosen as Jean Chrétien’s left-wing guard or point woman but seemed to have absolutely no influence in Cabinet.  The reality of the Chrétien years as Prime Minister was that Liberal Party policy was firmly under the right-wing direction of Paul Martin and Jean Chrétien’s mentor, the late Mitchell Sharp.  Sheila’s great battle over the Goods and Services Tax was more like a mental patient fighting with her straight-jacket.

Mind you, you have to respect her as an orator.  Sheila tells a great story.  It must be that early training as a reporter.  You can always enjoy the speech.  Just try not to analyze the content.  This is the cause of some concern as Sheila sets her sights today on the presidency of the Liberal Party of Canada.

The Liberal Party has to have leadership.  It has to get on the road back.  It has already bottomed.  And it needs to move firmly to the left.  The concern here is that Sheila Copps lacks the left-wing credentials of a Herb Gray or a Lloyd Axworthy.  Nor is she their intellectual equal.

We have to consider the party’s needs.  We need to make it clear that the only direction for Liberals is left.  We need to stake our ground and invite the like-minded to join us.  Yes, we need leadership.  It has to be leadership that believes in Canada’s future as a country that serves its peoples.  That means women’s rights, adequate childcare, guaranteed annual income, dental care along with Medicare, free college and university for all who can pass the exams.  It has to be a Canada that cares.  It can be a Canada of which we can all be proud.

-30-

Copyright 2011 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me