Monthly Archives: November 2015

On Being “Walled” In by Risk-Averse Politicians

November 16, 2015

So, Premier Brad Wall of Saskatchewan wants Prime Minister Trudeau to “suspend your current plan to bring 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada by the end of the year and to re-evaluate this goal and the processes in place to achieve it.” Is this the spirit that built the West? I don’t think to-day’s people of Saskatchewan are nearly that risk-averse, any more than were their ancestors.

Just how risk-averse do we need to be, in the present circumstances? Just how risk-averse are we? The fact of 129 deaths in Paris last week stimulated the CBC into a corporate paroxysm that has not yet run its course, and our newly-minted Opposition, and many others, into pleas for more lethal violence for our war on lethal violence in Iraq and Syria. The fact of two (2) deaths of soldiers in Canada earlier this year caused Parliament to ratchet up “security” to new records on the draconian scale. The imagination of similar danger arising from among 25,000 hapless Syrians agitates Premier Wall into nervous correspondence. Clearly the appetite for risk-aversion remains keen, at least in some circles.

Keen, but perhaps a trifle selective. The fact of 3,500 to 4,000 deaths annually in Canada by suicide evokes some gentle hand-wringing, but not much pouring of energy and money into a war on lethal despair and its causes. The fact of 2,000 to 3,000 deaths annually in motor vehicle accidents does not stimulate us to ruthless pursuit of lethal bad driving or ruthless anything,—just the usual routine persistence, not accepting these deaths but taking them in stride,—nor the 700 to 1,100 deaths from workplace accidents, nor even the 500 to 700 deaths from homicide. That’s 8,000 deaths per year, on average, arising from deplorable, often preventable phenomena that do not cause the CBC to foam at the mouth, nor columnists to rage, nor Parliament to pass draconian new laws, nor Premier Wall to write minatory letters, nor Canadians as a whole to set aside our humane and generous instincts.

A few years ago, after I was unexpectedly thrust into the task of managing a family counselling agency, I learned of a school of therapy called “Solution Focused”, invented by the late Steve de Shazer and Insoo Kim Berg in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. As I remember, it counselled according to three guiding rules.

  1. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Before he can convince me that our system of security is so “broke” that it cannot manage the speedy arrival of 25,000 waifs of the mad world, Premier Wall is going to have to show me more deaths than two, in this country, or even 129 in France. Right now I am prepared to believe that our police and security services do very well against potential terrorist acts, and will stay so prepared even if we suffer a tragic episode or two. I accept these as risks of modern life, as we all do in the face of suicides, traffic accidents, industrial accidents, murder, and the rest. They are causes for persistent dedicated effort, but not for panic.
  2. If you try something that works, keep doing it. I think that we, here in Canada, in the face of our statistical evidence, must conclude that our approach to the threat of “terrorism” is working. Either that, or the threat itself is very small. We do not need to direct more energy to that threat, but could reasonably apply the same levels of commitment, singleness of purpose, skill, energy, time and money to other threats that have proved numerically much more significant. Go for it, Premier Wall! You and your colleagues have my full support for an all-out assault on the causes of suicides, mangled corpses in cars and work-places, and murders of all kinds.
  3. If you try something that does not work, don’t keep doing it. Do something different. Premier Wall and his hench-voices would have us keep doing it, perhaps even do more of it, if we can merely imagine that some day it might not work. Never mind the facts, just give us the dire possibilities: we’ll act on those. At what point may we begin to call this cowardice?

No, Premier Wall! say I. Bring on the 25,000 Syrians, as we did before—speaking of something that worked—for the Hungarians in their need, and the Vietnamese boat people in theirs, and the Kosovars in theirs, not to mention the settlement of Western Canada in earlier times. And let us also not forget the continuing disgrace and shame of our deplorable brushing aside of Sikhs, Jews, and others when they called to us out of their darkness.

And as for addressing something that’s obviously not working, how about ramping down the violence in the Middle East, or at least, if we can’t do that, ceasing to be part of it. Ground the bloody planes. Find a better way. That would be doing something different, indeed.

Faced with insanity, don’t join in. Become Solution Focused. Take a deep breath. Take two. Think. Remain sane. Remain humane.

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A Plea for Sanity and Moderation in Response to Violence

Letter to the Rt. Hon. Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister, November 16, 2015

Respected Sir:

I believe, as do many others, that when dramatic events such as the attacks in Paris take place, voices of sanity, moderation need to be heard. I intend that mine should be one of them. We are already hearing plenty of the other kind, not to mention the disgraceful act of criminal violence in Peterborough.

Based on what I know of you and your hopes for the government you lead, I believe that your own instincts will be towards sanity and moderation in response. I hope you know that a great many Canadians, myself among them, will support you fully and as loudly as we can, as you try to work things out along those lines.

In principle, I believe your wish is correct, that Canada should stop bombing people in Iraq and Syria. Bombing people, whoever does it and for whatever reason, is always an act of barbarism. It is like capital punishment: it is never a moral response to any situation. It is done for reasons of revenge, frustration, weakness, and the desire to wage war without taking much risk. It is a despicable way to fight, and I wish we were not fighting that way in Iraq and Syria. The sooner we can stop, the better.

On the other hand, if NATO decides to fight that way in support of the French, then we might well be stuck for the time being. But our advice should be to find a better way. If we end up having to go along with our allies, so be it, but I hope we will find a way that is not despicable.

ISIS is not the only force for barbarism that we need to purge from the world. We don’t get very far that way if we act barbarously ourselves. Waging war in the proper way and for the proper cause is not barbarous, although always mournfully regrettable and an admission of failure. I hope you will be able to find a better way, not only consistent with our international obligations, but also with morality.

Somebody recently referred to our bombing in Iraq and Syria as an important “symbolic act”. I do not believe in killing people for symbolic purposes. If we have to use killing for purposes of symbolism, then our imaginations have become impoverished indeed. We can, we must, learn to do a lot better than that.

I will support any efforts that Canada might make to bring peace, stability and prosperity to the Middle East. I do not believe that a state of continuous warfare and the violent cultivation of hatred can do the job.

Domestically, I hope that we will not over-react or listen to the voices of hysteria. We have all the tools we need in our police and security forces to respond to criminal risks and acts, perhaps even too many. We do not need further measures of repression. We simply need to use the ones we have.

And, most emphatically, I continue to support your plan to bring in 25,000 Syrian refugees by year end, or at least to approve them. The attacks in Paris should not change our resolve to help those people, which is based on humanitarian generosity and a practical recognition that we are rich and resourceful enough to welcome them, and we should do it.

Thank you.

Concerning Electoral Reform: First-Two-Past-the-Post

Our newly-minted prime minister, Mr. Trudeau, has promised that 2015 will be the last election conducted on the old first-past-the-post system. I am sure I do not have to explain why I support that resolve: it is abundantly evident that first-past-the-post is a very bad system now that we have four credible parties, five in Québec, and would be just as bad if we only considered three. Reform is long overdue. But what kind of reform?

I would like to propose two general principles:

(1) That the system chosen should be simple enough for the vast majority of electors to understand and use. People should be absolutely clear about how to vote and what use is being made of their votes. This is the great strength of first-past-the-post. Everyone understands a simple race. Unfortunately the job that we are electing people to do, and their lines of accountability nowadays, are not simple at all. The simplicity of the present system becomes much more questionable, once we get beyond election day, which we do very quickly, in one day, as a matter of fact. Fifteen-hundred days, or thereabouts, lie ahead.

(2) That the direct connection between the person of the MP and the geographic constituency should be maintained. I believe the voters should appoint their representatives directly, and not through the intermediation of a party. Parties now choose candidates, but they do not decide who gets the job. It would be a long step in a bad direction if they did.

Regardless of the technicalities (and I recognize there are many) I think there could be problems — perceptual if not practical — if someone were messing around with the votes after the polls close, beyond simply counting them. All forms of preferential voting or ranking have this disadvantage. Of course, reassignment of ranked votes can take place in a perfectly honest, mechanical way, but would people believe it? And what happens if a substantial number of people don’t trust the voting system, or even understand it?

I THINK THE SOLUTION IS TO REDUCE THE NUMBER OF CONSTITUENCIES (BY DOUBLING THE SIZE OF MOST), AND SEND TWO MEMBERS FROM EACH ONE, THESE BEING THE FIRST AND SECOND-PLACE FINISHERS EXCEPT WHEN THE PARTY PREFERENCE OF THE VOTERS IS OVERWHELMING. IN THAT CASE THE PARTY PREFERRED WOULD SEND TWO.

This system, I think, would work exactly as the present one does, from the point of view of voters. I am not suggesting that each voter would vote for two candidates. One voter, one vote. One constituency, two MP’s.

For voters in cities, the doubling of the size of constituencies would make no apparent difference. Candidates may not live in their urban constituencies now. The change would be apparent in rural constituencies, but I am not sure it is hugely significant. I think I would be just as well represented, perhaps even better, by two members from different parties, even if the area and population they are representing is twice as big.

People in huge northern constituencies might object to this idea, quite validly. It won’t strain the system if those constituencies stay the way they are, and won’t hurt the rest of us if they too have two MP’s. I have lived in the north, and know the difficulties. I would not want do anything to increase them, or give people reason to believe they had been increased. 338 MP’s; 350? 360? What difference does it make?

I recognize that larger constituencies would increase the costs of campaigning, thus building in an advantage for those candidates and their parties who are well organized and do a good job. Is it really a disadvantage, to us voters, to see how well these people can organize to do a large, important job? Are we really worse off if that job is made even larger?

I will perform detailed analysis on the recent election, and up-date the analysis for 2011, as soon as I have time. Not too long I hope. To see the earlier, preliminary analysis of 2011, click on the category “Electoral Reform” and it will pop up right below this one.

A Fable for November 4th

In the high and not so far off times, there dwelt a land of many sovereigns, ruled by a Grand Vizier, who was appointed periodically in a roundabout way by the sovereigns themselves. Long had this custom been assiduously cultivated, yielding in the course of time some twenty-two Grand Viziers, numbered from GV-1.0 through to GV-22.2 (not to be confused with GG-28.0, an entirely different official of a particularly arcane nature), according to the inspired collective wisdom of the sovereigns.

Came the day when the sovereigns were again called upon, either to confirm the appointment of the present Grand Vizier with his accompanying Vizi-Gang, or to appoint another. And lo, on that day, on that single, even signal day, did the sovereigns in their inspired collective wisdom summarily demote GV-22.2 and VG-22.2, appointing GV- and VG-23.0 in their stead.

Great was then the intellectual and verbal turbulence among the scribes of the land, as well as among the various gangs and their followers, concerning the reasons for the down-fall of the Twenty-Twos (and others) and the Up-Rise of the Twenty-Threes: the strategies and tactics, the cuts and thrusts, the errors and omissions, the sayings, the doings, the promisings, the affirmations, the denials, the associations, that may or may not have contributed to such a dramatic re-casting of the scene. Some said ‘twas caused by this and that, others by these and those, and great was the scribbling on the screens and pages, and mighty the perturbations of the waves of the air. All this was, however, only vanity and a striving after wind.

The true explanation was quite simple: the sovereigns, in their collective wisdom, which truly can be inspired, however inscrutable may be its ways and workings, had decided that GV-22.2 had been bad for the common wealth, and that it was time for a change. For it is the job of the sovereigns to see the situation whole in its entirety, not in the grubby little fragments so dear to the analytical customs of the scribes and subterranean toilers in the various gangs. There is a sublimity that shapes their votes, rough-chew them how they will.

Demoted indeed were the Twenty-Twos, but not cast into outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth, although weep and gnash their teeth they did nonetheless, and copiously.  For according to another part of the custom (speaking of arcane), the sovereigns appointed them to the role of Oppozo-Gang, to be led by a Grand Oppozier, whose jocund task it would be to inform the sovereigns from day to day concerning the job performance of the Grand Vizier and his Vizi-Gang, yea, even more, as commonly interpreted, to pronounce to the sovereigns from day to day that these appointees are doing a reprehensible job and are in sooth most disadvantageous to the common wealth.

Let us be clear: the sovereigns, that is, the bosses of those whom they have appointed to govern the land, believe that they (the appointees, I mean) will be most effectively stimulated to superlative performance through the diligence of a highly paid and opulently housed official, complete with gang, striving from day to day to convince them (the bosses, I mean) that their appointees are doing a lousy job.

Full seldom does such a method of motivation appear in learned text-books on such matters, I wean, but I suppose we must accept the wisdom of this practice as being inspired on some level, perhaps as inscrutable as the rest. For such is the custom.

But lo, the sovereigns are in fact the bosses, as they have so firmly proved, and could if they chose instruct the Grand Oppozier and his gang, who are also under appointment in equal fashion, and perhaps even instruct the scribes although that is a more complicated business, in the following manner: “We have made our decision. We have appointed a new Grand Vizier with his Vizi-Gang, and we demand that you give them time to learn how to do their jobs. We will decide how much time when we begin to see how well they learn.

“For they are our servants, as you are, and we demand that you so bear yourselves as to make our government work well. We are wiser and more mature that you are. We know the job of Grand Vizier to be most difficult, with many complexities and pressures, and we do not harbour unreasonable expectations from inexperienced people. We do not require instant miracles. We do not require absolute freedom from mistakes. We have had too much experience with truly incompetent and self-interested grand viziers and their gangs. We demand that you give this one the opportunity to prove that he can be what he says he wants to be. For we have decided that this approach will be in our best interest.

“We, your sovereigns, have appointed you, we pay you, to be the opposition to our government, not its enemies. That is a difficult job that you too must learn to do properly, and we will cut you sufficient slack until you have shown us how well you can learn.”

And if the sovereigns were to instruct in this manner, would many among the oppozers and the scribes know what they meant? Would many listen? Or is this tale also nothing but vanity, and a striving after wind?