By Daniel Tencer | September 30, 2008 - 12:57 am - Posted in Smells Like North

Gilles Duceppe, the wild-eyed separatist who heads up the Bloc Quebecois, understands something about Canadian politics that few of his colleagues in Parliament seem to understand: In Canada, if you are a left-of-center political party, you want to campaign like a Republican. Yes, like a Republican. In other words, you run on values rather than policy.

Gilles Duceppe, Republican candidate for Laurier-Ste. Marie

Gilles Duceppe, Republican candidate for Laurier-Ste. Marie

Duceppe understands that liberal/social democratic tendencies run as deep in Canadian society, and especially in Quebecois society, as conservatism runs in American society. Put another way: Run on issues like the economy or leadership, and Stephen Harper’s Conservatives win. Run on values issues, like cultural funding and reproductive rights, and the Conservatives lose.

Unlike the NDP’s Jack Layton, who thinks he can take on conservatives on the economy with his socialist platform, and unlike the Liberals’ Stephane Dion, who thinks he can take on the Conservatives by talking about, well, nothing much, Duceppe understands that the best way to get people to the polls in Canada is to get them worried that their “way of life” is under attack. In Canada, where topics like health care and free trade are “values issues” (a clear indicator of just how institutional Canadian identity really is), attacking Stephen Harper’s cuts to arts funding and a Conservative private-members’ bill that would criminalize harming a fetus independently of the mother is a clear path to victory.

Duceppe’s Republican-style values offensive against Stephen Harper has so much resonance in Canada that he is actually getting the lead quote in election articles in the English-language press outside of Quebec. That is an amazing achievement for an anti-Canadian separatist, and the other party leaders should be taking notes.

Of course, Duceppe’s separatist party has no chance of forming government, but he does stand a chance of keeping the Tories from getting the majority they need to govern unimpeded, by denying them the inroads they need to make in Quebec.

Stephen Harper understands that Canada is — in writer Jeffrey Simpson’s words — a “friendly dictatorship.” Harper certainly understands dictatorial rule, as he has proven over the past two years as prime minister, but it’s the “friendly” part he’s having trouble with. In the midst of this cultural storm brewing around his policies, Harper must finally be learning that the party he leads is little more than “the NDP of the right” — a party that is significantly alienated from the values of mainstream voters. And the only reason they can form government when the NDP can’t is that there are marginally more conservatives in Canada than there are socialists (and Quebec socialists vote Bloc).

Just look at Harper’s comment last week that arts funding is a “city” issue not of interest to “normal Canadians.” Strange thing to say in a country that is 85% urban. Did he change his mind about it? You bet. Just a few months after slashing arts funding, Harper is now announcing $150 million in subsidies to parents who enroll their children in arts programs. And the private-members’ bill essentially recognizing the fetus as a human being with rights, which Harper tried to replace just ahead of the election with a milder bill increasing penalties for harming pregnant women, now appears to be off the table, with a promise to avoid the abortion issue altogether.

Harper seems to be getting the hang of this. He’s beginning to understand that a Conservative running in Canada needs to be — like Harper’s predecessors John Diefenbaker and Brian Mulroney — exactly one micron to the right of the Liberal platform. If Harper keeps it up, if he continues to shift towards the Canadian mainstream, he may well prove to be more than a footnote in history.

The wild card in this election, though, is Elizabeth May. The Green Party leader took calls from viewers on CBC Newsworld last night, and gave an impressive account of herself. She was well-spoken, intelligent, honest, straight-forward, and consistent. In other words, she was everything that the other party leaders aren’t, and she just might prove to be the game-changing event in this week’s election debates. At the very least, she will blow the hapless Stephane Dion out of the water.

Of course, history shows that Canadians have never really wanted honesty or straight-forwardness from their political leaders. (Jean Chretien, the fisticuffs-loving prime minister ultimately responsible for the worst corruption scandal in Canadian history, won three straight majorities.) In fact, I’m willing to bet that all the pundits will call May “naive” and “idealistic” and all those other adjectives that are always automatically and mindlessly attached to any politician who actually believes in the democratic process.

Yet Canadians really do want a friendly dictator, and May is friendly, but not dictatorial — the exact opposite of Stephen Harper. In the jaded Canadian political climate, she is not really electable, but if she brings her A-game to the debates, she will become a new force in Canadian politics all the same.

That’s a good thing for Stephen Harper. If the Greens become major contenders, the left-of-center vote will be split four ways (between the Liberals, NDP, Greens and Bloc), and Harper could wind up with a majority government on the strength of only 36% or 37% of the popular vote. But that will no doubt piss off the two-thirds of Canadians who voted against him, and with that kind of questionable political capital, Stephen Harper will have no choice but to govern as a me-too Liberal.

If he doesn’t, my bottom dollar says he will go down in flames in the next election, in four years’ time, and his party will once again return to its natural state as the NDP of the right.

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By Daniel Tencer | September 27, 2008 - 12:55 am - Posted in Newsburger

Mattesons Examination of a Witch, 1853

Matteson's Examination of a Witch, 1853

Food shortages and the 17th-century witch
The killing of women accused of witchcraft was correlated to unfavorable weather conditions throughout history. Clearly, it’s not a good idea to be a spinster in bad times…

Please, not another Mideast war
Ten thousand Syrian troops have massed on the Lebanese border…

The coming North Pole War
Canada is sending troops to the Arctic. Russia sees control of the area as key to its resurgence as a superpower. Even Britain is laying claim to the territory, on the basis of a fifty-yard-wide rock (!) it controls near the Faroes. Put it all together, and it’s a recipe for a polar war…

China’s space-program propaganda
“The ship disappears below the horizon. Warm clapping and excited cheering breaks the night sky, echoing across the silent Pacific Ocean.” That’s how Chinese news agency Xinhua described China’s third manned space flight - the night before it launched…

Thank you for flying Shandong Airlines … now get out and push
Passengers on a Guilin-to-Zhengzhou flight were asked to push the plane to the terminal after it broke down on the tarmac…

No more Chinese cash
In recent years. China has become one of America’s largest creditors, routinely lending the country billions to keep the cycle of consumerism running. Now, Chinese banks have been told not to lend to the U.S., a sure sign of trouble…

The oldest thing in the world
Scientists in Quebec have found a rock that is more than four billion years old…

Everybody off Earth now
Are things really so bad that it’s imperative we leave the planet?

The legacy of Baader-Meinhof
“In their efforts to achieve their aim, a radical offshoot of [Germany's] anti-American, anti-establishment left started to employ tactics that were just as fanatical and violent as those of their perceived Nazi enemies…”

Airport mind meld
The Department of Homeland Security’s MALINTENT program could make airport baggage checks a thing of the past, but only at a high price: It reads your mind…

Farming in skyscrapers
Dickson Despommiers of Columbia University has a unique solution to the problem of overcrowding and food supply: greenhouse skyscrapers…

Homer Simpson, national security threat
Russia has been tightening its “extremism” laws, in an attempt, some say, to crush political dissent. But what actually constitutes extremism? If the country’s recent ban on The Simpsons, Family Guy, and South Park is any indication, extremism comes in the form of social satire and fart jokes…

Bigger and scarier than a black hole
Clusters of distant galaxies are hurtling at two million miles per hour towards something on the edge of the universe, but astronomers don’t know what. The discovery is challenging their whole understanding of time and space…

I’d recognize that ass anywhere
Researchers have found that chimpanzees can match photos of their simian friends’ faces with photos of their rear ends…

Why the bailout could make things worse…
Many financial institutions look healthy today because their assets are overvalued. A federal bailout of the banks would reveal those assets’ true values. In other words, the bailout could make things worse…

… and worse yet
“Henry Paulson and Ben Bernanke … predict dire consequences if they don’t get their way. But the consequences of letting them have their way are so awful that the alternative doesn’t look so bad…”

The only thing we have to fear is the president
“It took President Bush until Wednesday night to address the American people about the nation’s financial crisis, and pretty much all he had to offer was fear itself…”

Insane in the balance sheet
“If any private corporation employed the same accounting tricks Congress and the White House use to hide the government’s massive debt and financial liabilities, its board and executive officers would all be in prison…”

In Arab financial circles, all is well
Islam has long held banking to be a form of evil, a view reflected in its prohibition of usury. That attitude has translated into a cautiousness among Arab bankers that may have helped them avoid the financial meltdown…

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By Daniel Tencer | September 25, 2008 - 12:53 am - Posted in Antics and Pedantics

This is truly unbelievable. First John McCain “suspends” his campaign and tries to cancel Friday’s presidential debate, painting himself as a selfless hero who will put aside his political ambitions for the good of the nation. (About one in ten people think this is a good idea, BTW.)

Now, this morning, the real motives behind McCain’s move come out. According to CNN, quoting Lindsay Graham,

the McCain campaign is proposing to the Presidential Debate Commission and the Obama camp that if there’s no bailout deal by Friday, the first presidential debate should take the place of the VP debate, currently scheduled for next Thursday, October 2 in St. Louis.

Whole thing here.

Hmm. Could it be that McCain is trying to keep Sarah Palin out of the media spotlight?

And in case you don’t think he needs to, observe her performance in an interview with Katie Couric, broadcast yesterday.

Are the pieces beginning to come together yet? If not, consider this: Hours before he was to appear on Letterman last night, McCain called the CBS late-night host and told him he couldn’t appear, because he had to fly straight back to Washington to massage a bipartisan deal on the $700-billion bailout (a bailout that apparently 94 percent of Americans oppose, according to one non-scientific poll).

Then, instead of flying to Washington to be the hero of the day, McCain went straight to another CBS studio, and continued campaigning for president, giving an interview to — guess who — Katie Couric. And just hours before CBS was to air her Palin interview. This was all captured on Letterman:

Folks, it’s panic time at the Republican Lair. Which doesn’t even make sense to me, because as far as I can tell McCain is still very much in the game, has an energized base, and is only marginally weaker than Obama on the economy issue, which is, let’s face it, the issue in this campaign, probably all the way to November.

I mean, other than the whole problem with Rick Davis, McCain’s campaign manager whose company was taking money from Freddie Mac until last month, and other than McCain declaring just last week that the economy’s “fundamentals are strong,” then changing his mind forty-eight hours later, and other than Sarah Palin appearing to be completely the wrong person for economic times like this… oh, wait…

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By Daniel Tencer | September 23, 2008 - 12:52 am - Posted in Newsburger
Soul searching
For years we’ve been hearing stories about people experiencing “out-of-body” experiences while in surgery, watching themselves from above. Now, scientists are placing photos on a high shelf in an operating room to see if your soul can see them during surgery… And at least one commentator is skeptical that human consciousness can survive without a brain…

Mozarts latest release -- in stores soon!

Mozart's latest release -- in stores soon!

Mozart, the new Tupac…
A library in France has found a previously unknown work by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart…

Musical ride
Residents of Lancaster, California, are not happy with carmaker Honda’s idea to cut grooves in a local road so that your tires sing the Lone Ranger theme song…

Dr. Druid
Many theories have been floated about the purpose of Stonehenge — calendar, shrine, marketplace. But the latest theory says it was a pre-historic hospital…

Trans-oceanic integration
Global free trade deals are alive and well. Just ask the people negotiating one between the US and Asia, or Canada and the EU…

An eclectic Muslim holiday
It’s Ramadan, and how you celebrate it seems to differ depending on where you are. In the UK, flashmobs are feeding the homeless, and in Nigeria, bachelors are being hunted…

Greed is contagious, but frugality…
When you use a coupon in a supermarket checkout line, you are embarrassing the people around you…

A forgotten bit of genius
A fridge that works without electricity or any other external power source? Sure, Albert Einstein invented it…

Thanks for the mammaries
A restaurant in Winterthur, Switzerland, plans to serve soups and sauces made with human breast milk…

Oil is bad for the economy, you know
Environmentalists are taking a new approach to fighting the heavily-polluting exploitation of oil sands: They’re saying it’s bad business; so bad, in fact, it “could be to the oil industry what sub-prime lending was to the banking sector…”

So who’s a surrender monkey now?
Your choice of ideology may well be a reflection of your neuro-biological make-up. Conservatives, for example, scare easily…

In bed with big oil, literally
Were America’s most crucial decisions on oil drilling made at sex toy sales parties?

The Dumb-Dumber ticket…
“Listening to the defenders of the McCain-Palin ticket, you would think that excelling in school was a misdemeanor…”

Keep that BlackBerry away from your family jewels…
A new study says cell phones can affect sperm count…

It’s official: China wins the Iraq War
By some estimates, the cost of the war in Iraq could top a trillion dollars. If that’s the case, the United States just spent a trillion dollars helping China land oil contracts…

Going up, way up
Forget rockets, with their dangerous and polluting combustion engines. What we need — and what an agency in Japan is planning — is an elevator to space…

Bin Laden clears his throat…
Will al Qaeda be this election’s October Surprise?

Sexism pays
What’s the difference between a sensitive guy and a male chauvinist pig? About $8,500 a year…

This isn’t a case of avian flu
Bird populations are in serious decline the world over…

Fear of a failed state
Turkey’s refusal to recognize the Armenian genocide of 1915-1922 could be more than stubborn ignorance. It could stem from a real fear that admitting to such a horrible crime could mean the end of secular Turkey…

Let’s just say he’s white
The fact that Barack Obama is African-American could be costing him six percentage points in the polls, and some of that is the result of racism among Democrats. That’s a fact the Obama campaign doesn’t want to talk about…

Grey Lady vs. greying presidential candidate
After a story linking a McCain adviser to the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac fiasco, John McCain’s campaign went to war against the New York Times — and the Times is fighting back. “[The New York Times] is today not by any standard a journalistic organization,” campaign runner Steve Schmidt said. To which NYT ME Bill Keller pointed out that the McCain camp hasn’t even challenged what they reported…

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By Daniel Tencer | - 12:50 am - Posted in Newsburger
Panic on Wall Street = schadenfreude on Main Street Rather than fear, Americans are increasingly responding to the debt crisis with a different emotion: A sense of justice and vengeance…

Welcome to the Third World
“It’s not every day that a superpower makes a bid to transform itself into a Third World nation, and we here at the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund want to be among the first to welcome you to the community of states in desperate need of international economic assistance…” Or, put another way, welcome to the United States of France…

Pray the debt away
The suits and ties packing the pews in lower Manhattan are a clear indicator that, when times get tough, you turn to God…

The Shock Doctrine rears its ugly head again
Buried in the fine print of the dubious $700-billion bailout plan is a clause that would make Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson a virtual economic dictator who is not accountable to anyone…

Why should the middle class pay for it?
“This proposal as presented is an unacceptable attempt to force middle-income families (and our children) to pick up the cost of fixing the horrendous economic mess that is the product of the Bush administration’s deregulatory fever and Wall Street’s insatiable greed…”

It’s a wonderful business
Ron Hermance’s real estate lending bank is doing well because, unlike the big lenders, he knew all his clients personally. The financial sector could learn a thing or two from this modern-day George Bailey…

Bye bye innovation
Banks can fail, and the world will move on. But the real problem with the debt crisis is it could close the door on innovation, the real driver of wealth…

What happens when banking becomes a popularity contest
“The impact of these mistakes was made worse by a seemingly harmless decision that these companies made many years ago: the decision to go public. Doing so put the firms at the mercy of the stock market, and last week that mercy evaporated…”

Nobody’s buying American
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is already thinking ahead to the next financial crisis: The day foreign investors stop buying US debt…

Bad times are good
What’s bad for your wallet could be good for the planet…

Sins don’t stop when the money does
Looking for a safe investment in bad times? Try alcohol, tobacco and gambling…

Russia stumbles
Russia may well have gotten the worst of the financial crisis so far; its stock market is down fifty percent off its summer peak, and fell so far last week that regulators had to close it for two days. Putin’s gamble that the Russian economy could weather a war in the Caucasus may have been wrong…

Told you so
Eddie Goodman didn’t live long enough to see whether his predictions about the financial system would come to pass. They did…

The myth of plummeting stock brokers
Skyscrapers are taller than ever these days, so why aren’t bankers jumping out of windows? Perhaps because they never really did…

Might as well be the Bronx Bugle…
The Wall Street Journal should change its name. After all, why would you want to be named after the bad part of town?

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By Daniel Tencer | September 18, 2008 - 12:49 am - Posted in Smells Like North
Stephen Harper, having recently asserted that Canada has become a more conservative country, may want to check out this exchange between Dana Larsen, the NDP candidate for West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast, and the patriarch of CTV News, Mike Duffy, in which the portly Duffy congratulates and encourages Larsen, who recently resigned from his candidacy after a video popped up showing him smoking pot and dropping three tabs of acid.

Dana Larsen (left) with Jack Layton

Dana Larsen (left) with Jack Layton

What first surprised me about this interview was that it even happened. I had assumed that Larsen had “resigned in disgrace,” and had no interest in defending his pot-smoking, acid-dropping West Coast ways. But here was Larsen — dressed, as Duffy put it, “like a banker,” in a shirt and tie — defending his position, and doing so articulately and sensibly. As Larsen talked off camera, pointing out that the NDP’s official policy calls for the decriminalization, regulation and taxation of marijuana, CTV showed footage of the former candidate stuffing about thirty joints into his mouth and lighting them simultaneously.

But then things turned really strange. Asked to account for his disappearance from the NDP roster, Larsen gave an answer that was so clear-headed and straightforward it would have made even Barack Obama blush.

“The concern wasn’t so much my ideas about drug policy,” Larsen told Duffy, “but that [NDP leader] Jack Layton would have to debate what one of his candidates may have done on camera eight or ten years ago. I didn’t want to distract from the other issues in this campaign. I didn’t want to be causing a problem for Jack Layton and the New Democratic team, so that’s why I stepped back.”

Well, good ol’ Mike was duly impressed. Perhaps the bar is set so low for acid-heads that any time one manages to put together a multi-clausal sentence, it’s cause for celebration. Or maybe Mike Duffy was sending a subliminal message to his audience about where he stands on the whole “war on drugs” issue. Either way, here’s what he said (emphasis mine):

“I wish you good luck in your future endeavours. Civic involvement, political involvement is something we all salute, and I appreciate your having been at it for five years. Good for you. Hopefully other people will follow your example in getting involved in the process.”

And good for you, too, Mike Duffy!

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It’s been a real trip watching the Republicans defend Sarah Palin in the face of media attacks — some of them fair and justified, some of them far from it.

Sarah Palin: conservatisms downfall?

Sarah Palin: conservatism's downfall?

And when I say “real trip,” what I mean is actually the opposite, in that the Republican talking points on Palin have been downright surreal. I have seen Fox’s Bill O’Reilly defend teenage pregnancy and go on to claim that it is nobody’s business but the Palin family’s. I have read one conservative commentator after another level accusations of sexism against the media. And of course, there is the now-famous retort from the McCain camp that “no one would ask a man that question.”

And you know what? I agree with those conservative commentators. Teenage pregnancy is not the fault of the parents (it’s quite obviously the fault of the two teens involved in making the pregnancy happen). And it absolutely is sexist to question whether Sarah Palin can raise kids and have a career. Fathers also have to raise kids. Barack Obama has two; no one is asking whether he can juggle being president with raising two daughters.

So part of the surreality of it all is finding myself agreeing with the pundits of the American right. But the larger surreality, the context in which this surreality matters, is the fact that the right-wing commentators have been making exactly the opposite points for many, many years. Those of us who saw The Daily Show’s stinging analysis of conservative pundits on the Palin issue know that, just months ago, Bill O’Reilly blamed Jamie Lynn Spears’ pregnancy on the parents. And many of us remember Joe Scarborough’s (and other’s) comments describing Hillary Clinton as “shrill” — an adjective often used to precede the noun “housewife” or “busybody” or some other term intended to denigrate an entire demographic.

I can understand why the conservative commentators are doing this, and why Republican supporters are downright gleeful to see it happening. There are few pleasures in life more fulfilling than being able to throw back in the face of your political opponents the language they once used against you. After years of being labelled “sexist,” the Republican grassroots can now take on an air of politically-correct superiority, aim and fire that label right back at the people who used it against them. To the conservatives of America, this all looks like sweet revenge.

Yet it may prove to be bitter defeat. Because here’s the thing: The Sarah Palin media uproar is the single most-discussed, most-covered, most-high profile instance of the Culture Wars that America has had in years and years. Maybe no one remembers Bill O’Reilly blaming teen pregnancy on the parents or Rush Limbaugh pooh-pooing the whole notion of sexism. But, one way or another, this election will end, and things will go back to normal in the conservative corners of the media. And the next time Bill O’Reilly takes some celebrity’s parents to task for a teenage pregnancy, the next time Rush Limbaugh denies the existence of sexism, everyone will remember what they said during the campaign. The social conservative commentators will have lost whatever moral authority they once possessed. It will be clear, to all but the most obtuse and stubborn of viewers, listeners and readers, that there really is nothing behind the right wing’s talking points; everything they say and do will simply look like what it is: Jockeying for political advantage.

And in the hearts of social conservatives a new doubt will be sown, a doubt in the form of guilt, however subconscious, of knowing that you are using the weapons that were once used against you, the weapons that you once considered culture war crimes. And that doubt will eat away, over time, at social conservatives’ resolve. Active backing of their initiatives will decrease; attack-dog pundits will retire to Tucson; rhetoric on the tube will tone down…

And with that, social conservatism as a political movement will sputter and fail. It won’t die altogether, it’s just that there will be more powerful forces setting the agenda. Sure, the megachurches will still be packed; “God Bless America” will still be the default sign-off for political speeches of all ideoligical stripes; and the Westboro Baptist Church will continue to spread hate and anger at the fastest pace they can maintain. But as a force in politics, it will be severely diminished, eventually reduced to a talking-points lunch for the hyenas of the political left, who will level against the right fierce and relentless accusations of the worst of all ideological crimes: hypocrisy.

As an adjunct of this shift, we can expect to see progressives once again take control of the moral agenda. Expect, in the coming years, a major politician in the US running for high office to declare themselves, forcefully and unapologetically, to be a “liberal” — a term from which American politicians, especially the liberal ones, have fled ever since Walter Mondale’s brutal thumpin’ at the polls in 1984.

(And no, it won’t be Obama. Too soon.)

So my feeling on the matter is that, even if the McCain-Palin ticket wins (an eventuality I consider improbable, whatever the daily tracking polls may say), social conservatism will be in its death throes in the coming years. There may be attempts, in a McCain administration, to stack the Supreme Court with right-wing ideologues, and to promote an outdated, rusty model of faith and community, but these attempts will fail, because, lacking the moral certitude to argue their points, social conservatives will simply lose fight after fight. Like the elves in Lord of the Rings, they will “diminish, and go into the West,” where they belong.

That is not to say that social conservatism can’t eventually stage some spectacular comeback, in some refashioned form; and it is not to say that it won’t have left an indelible mark on America, and the world as a whole. But it does mean that this iteration of social conservatism is dead in the water as of right now. The talking heads of Fox News and the New York Sun have cut their foundations right out from under themselves; they can no longer claim to be the beacons of “rational thought” fighting against the forces of political correctness.

They have now officially become what they beheld.

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By Daniel Tencer | September 16, 2008 - 12:47 am - Posted in Newsburger

Thanks to Reason Magazine for summing up the 2008 presidential race so succinctly.

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