Category Archives: Politics General

Never send to know for whom the CBC polls; it polls for thee, or thinks it does

What has the recent Canada Day “poll” commissioned and being massaged daily by the CBC to do with Social Justice? A great deal, as a matter of fact, because it serves as an example of abuse of statistical methods to create journalistic fodder, and thus to misrepresent our perceptions of our country’s beliefs and attitudes. It is an exercise in misinformation and misleading. It is not fake news, because it is reporting something that actually happened, but it is sloppy news. Canadians on the whole may or may not be “conflicted and worried”, as the July 1st headline would have it, but you can’t prove it by this “poll”, one way or the other.

This piece of work is not a “poll”, but a “survey”. A survey becomes a poll when rigour is applied to the size and composition of the sample, the wording of the questions, and the nature of the questioning. This survey meets none of the relevant standards, and therefore cannot be generalized. It is valid for what it is, a survey of 4,500 (3,000 + 3×500) Canadians not randomly selected who were asked slanted questions over the internet and confined to multiple-choice answers. It has no capacity to speak to the larger outlook. Éric Grenier, the reporter who wrote the first story, and who with his background presumably knows better, as he tries to reassure us on the reliability of his reportage, makes the following, startling statement:

Because the sample is based on those who initially self-selected for participation in the Maru Voice panel rather than a probability sample, no estimates of sampling error can be calculated. However, a comparable probabilistic national sample of 3,000 voters would have a margin of error of +/- 1.8 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, while samples of 500 voters have a margin of error of +/- 4.4 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

Logically this is exactly the same as saying, “Since this animal before us is an ass we can’t expect it to do the same work as a horse. But if it were a horse, we could get it to do the work. So even though we know it’s an ass, we’ll put it to work as if it were a horse.” We may judge the work accordingly.

By the way, in my day we didn’t have “probability” or “probabilistic” samples. We had random samples, representative samples, small samples, large samples, etc. all of which use probabilities, each of which performs very differently. Mr. Grenier is trying to baffle us into overlooking his horse-ass problem. The CBC survey, by the way, uses a very small, even minuscule, not random, not remotely representative sample.

You can find Mr. Grenier’s story at https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/cbc-election-poll-1.5188097. The CBC has published others since, but I haven’t read them.

Let’s look at the questions. I propose to increase the sample to 4,501, a .022% (that is, 2.2 one-hundredths of one percent) increase, by answering some of the questions myself. I realize this percentage is small. It’s considerably larger than the CBC’s .016% of the adult Canadian population, however. To have any chance of supporting the generalizations the CBC wants to make they would need something closer to 450,000 respondents, randomly selected and personally interviewed, at least by telephone. I am not saying they don’t learn anything from their almost infinitesimal, biased, internetted sample, only that it provides no support for conclusions about the adult population as a whole, especially considering the questions asked. These are not simple, like “How would you vote?” or “Do you have a job?” They are complicated questions, inviting nuanced answers. The answers are pre-set, however, thus depriving the respondents of the right to say what they believe or how they feel in their own words.

On to the questions, as described in Mr. Grenier’s story. I have enough respect for his integrity to assume he is reporting them accurately.

When you think of you and your family, are you worried or optimistic about the future?” (Answers provided: Worried, somewhat worried, somewhat optimistic, optimistic.) My answer: I am neither worried nor optimistic. These words do not apply to me as I squint my way towards the future. Some good things are happening, and some not so good. In the future I expect that some good things will happen, and some not so good. Whether these will be the same things remains to be seen. I am reasonably sure, based on my age, that I will die some time in the next twenty-five years. I am not worried about that.

“What, if anything, are you most worried about?” (My health/health of a family member, cost of living, climate change, crime and public safety, terrorism, my job/finding a job, immigration, international relations/trade agreements, truth in the media, racism, social inequality, none of these issues worry me). I see reason for concern in what is happening and has happened in several of these areas, some more than others, but I know good people are working on them and trust their efforts will be fruitful at least to some extent. Progress is necessarily gradual. Ill-informed and self-interested opposition to those efforts is of course always a concern, but can be overcome by people of good will whose hearts are in the cause. The cause, for me, is Social Justice, which enters into all these fields and defies simplistic formulas of any kind.

I am going to skip over the next group, which concern specific issues or points of view. Besides, I am running out of room.

“In general, do you think Canada is on the right track or on the wrong track?” (Right track, wrong track). What a stupid question! Canada is a pluralistic country, moving through time in a way compatible with both its nationhood and its pluralism, neither confined to one track nor unconstrained in its modes of travel. All human possibilities, for good or ill, are within our potential, although I believe our potential for good exceeds the other.

Thinking about the upcoming federal election in October specifically, which issues are most concerning to you?” (Health care, climate change, cost of living, jobs/the economy, housing affordability, home ownership, government mismanagement, deficit spending, gun control, nobody to vote for, immigration, terrorism, trade negotiations, rascism, the quality of life in Indigenous communities, women’s equality) I see progress and reason for concern in all these areas. When I look at the parties and their leadership (always more than one person) I am more interested in their casts of mind than the specifics of their “programs” let alone their “promises”. I will vote for whichever party appears to have the most favourable cast of mind for the cause of Social Justice in all its pluralistic, multi-faceted ways.

It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if a hefty percentage of the other 4,500 people agree with me, or will agree when we have had a good conversation about the meanings of the words we are using. Alas, I do not expect the CBC to sponsor anything like that kind of conversation, or to support it by the necessary kind of social-political journalism.

By the way, if anybody knows what a cross between a fox and a hedgehog (or a porcupine) looks like, or how it behaves, please let me know. I think we may need one to tame the Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice and put it to work. Isaiah Berlin, echoing Archilochus, tells us: “The fox knows many things,  but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” I think that’s a Both-And, which may not really be all that hard to do.

Maybe Canada is such a cross: BOTH one big thing, AND many things,

 

On the Trail of Unsolved Riddles

Yesterday I wrote a Missive for the on-rushing Stephen Leacock Sesquicentennial, in part as follows:

When what is plural about us becomes perceived as an entanglement of identities and tribes, then we are in trouble. When the institutions that we have created to realize our hopes yearn for the simplicity and powers of monism and act accordingly, then we are in trouble. When we cannot or will not converse with each other in humane ways across the intermedia of our plural beings, then we are in trouble. When we think we cannot afford to be what we are, then we are in trouble. When we cannot remember how we got here and why we set out in the first place, then we are in trouble. I am not sure how much trouble we are in, but I worry about the trends.
What are we, and what do we want to be? A liberal democracy? A social democracy? An institutional democracy? A communitarian democracy? All of the above: a pluralistic democracy? I think so, but the traditions of collective reflection and conversation and accommodation that we need to make that work are under pressure from monistic interests and simplistic misunderstandings on all sides, and the sheer difficulty of the combination.

If we can’t find some way forward we will eventually find ourselves with no democracy at all, or only the pale shadow of one in the form of representatives duly elected to parliaments largely powerless. Of course the journey will be difficult, but why should we blinch at that? We are, on the whole, a thoughtful, articulate, educated, humane people, who can handle a complex conversation if only given the opportunity. Such a process is hard work, of course, and we are, on the whole, also humanly lazy. But we constantly prove ourselves quite capable of working hard in a good cause. Why not this one?

It would be helpful if those who aspire to inform us were not so eager to climb onto and sustain the simplistic bandwagon itself. Off the top I can think of two unhelpful illusions that are regularly presented to our credulity. First, and most ludicrously: that “the economy” is a singular thing that is and can be “managed” by our governments. Nonsense! Economic life is a tremendous organism of mind-boggling complexity. Those who claim to understand it — and they are many and vociferous — need to retain a just measure of humility, and to remind us, and themselves, as they spin their informative webs, that what they are able to see and describe on any one occasion is only a tiny slice of the reality. Such blatant absurdities as the CBC’s nightly “business report” consisting of a few stock market indices and a couple of spot market prices should be hooted off the stage. Likewise any politician or journalist who talks about “the economy”. Such talk is pure bamboozlement.

It would be helpful  if those who aspire to inform us would abandon the idea that the identity of a political party can be expressed in the person of its leader. I think that our political parties are complex organisms in their own right, and that all the main ones, those who try to embrace a wide perspective and have any hope of being elected, have something wise to say. They also indulge themselves and try to tempt us with much twaddle and intellectual candy floss borrowed from consumer marketing and branding. It would be helpful if our journalists would not go along so lazily with these unhelpful habits. I think that if we put all the platforms of all the parties together, after cutting out the candy floss, we would see the mind of the body politic in all its colour and richness.

I believe also that we would have a manifesto for the pluralistic democracy that collectively we hope for, that is a liberal democracy, a social democracy, an institutional democracy, and a communitarian democracy, all rolled into one. A monumental Unsolved Riddle perhaps, but a good one.

You may well ask whether I have done such a thing. The answer is that I tried, at the time of the last federal election, and made some progress. I tried to capture it in the persona of the Muddle Party. Some of the platforms were so incredibly verbose and disorganized that I was unable to finish in time. A vision of pluralistic democracy did indeed emerge, a flickering shadow glimpsed through the partisan fog. I have not tried for the Ontario election soon to come, for reasons peculiar to this particular occasion. I am going to try again for the federal election in 2019, which may, if we are fortunate, be more about ideas than personalities, or can be made so.

And guess what? It will coincide with the height of the Stephen Leacock Sesquicentennial. He gave us the Great Election in Missinaba County. A fitting precedent for an election conversation chock full of Knowledge, Imagination, Compassion, and Humour, just as he would want.

 

Once More Into the Voting Booth, Dear Friends!

The up-coming election here in Ontario has not yet been formally declared, but the noise is picking up, so I might as well join in. I started by reviewing my Manifesto, which appears as a separate page on this site, for the purpose of up-dating.

It says what I thought needed to be said at the time, in a way appropriate to that time, while we were still being governed federally by the Harper Gang. I think the tone is wrong for today, however, that I should not have spoken with such carping negativity even when I was railing against carping negativity. I will revise it, although I fear that it may not make such lively reading when I get finished.

It will take a little while to do that, because I want to get both tone and wording right.

I am also revising the Official Platform of my Party of One, first published here on November 14, 2014. Here is the new order and wording.

  1. Explicit recognition that the pursuit of Social Justice is the proper broad Goal of our politics, the cause in which we are all engaged together. The fact that that Goal remains riddled and elusive must not be offered as an excuse for us to abandon the cause. But since positive Social Justice is such a vexed concept, then let us settle for a collective resolve against obvious social injustices, such as blatant inequalities: in prosperity, in opportunities, in basic services, in all the blessings that those of us who are reasonably well-off take for granted.
  2. Explicit recognition that all our governments, as they strive for prosperity and Social Justice, must provide competent administration and reasonable care in management of the money we pay to them for our public services.
  3. Explicit adoption of a search for Balance as the means by which we grope our way forward. This means respect for the complexity of all public affairs and refusal to reduce them to simplicities. It means seeing the issues before us simply as Unsolved Riddles which we can address through conversations where Knowledge, Imagination, Compassion, and Humour (the Stephen Leacock Tetrad) are constantly in play, guiding us towards the following, all of which are equally important (please pay no attention to the order of presentation):
  4. Strength to the Social Fabric: languages, cultures, communities, enterprises, arts, opportunities, employments, governments, public services.
  5. Strength to Parliamentary democracy, including electoral reform, and to democratic institutions at all levels.
  6. Strength to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and related elements of our inherited constitution.
  7. Strength to the Social Safety Net.
  8. Prosperity, vigorous and justly shared; respect for the complexity and difficulty of this goal.
  9. Stewardship, resolute, protective and far-seeing, of our air, land and waters.
  10. Internationalism in foreign affairs, pursuing peace, prosperity, justice and the rule of law.
  11. Vigilance in the protection of our own territory and sovereignty, extreme reluctance in foreign adventures.
  12. Reconciliation as the fundamental principle applied to disputes, contentions, and criminal justice.

I believe that the vast majority of Canadian voters are liberal in their generosity to one another and especially to those less fortunate than themselves, progressive in their ideas about public policy and services, and conservative in how they want public funds to be managed. I think that the inherent difficulties in even understanding the complexity of such an agenda, let alone providing for it, spook many of us, and that our political parties in their vicious partisanship and self-interest are only too ready to prey upon our uncertainties.

Fie upon all such predators! We the voters have sovereignty over a very complicated state of affairs, where easy answers whether from right, left, or middle are almost certain to be wrong or at least tragically limited. Let’s talk about it, and force our political parties to address it, in the light of that obvious truth.

 

More Unsolved Riddles

A recent article on iPolitics by Alan Freeman under the headline “Governing is a lot harder than you think, Mr. O’Leary”  :: http://ipolitics.ca/2017/02/24/running-a-government-is-a-lot-harder-than-you-think-oleary/ :: provoked the following comment from me:

Mr. Freeman makes an extraordinarily important point, worth noting not only by Mr. O’Leary, but by all of us who would over-simplify political discussion. All governments, however small, are complex organisms comprised of PEOPLE who know, and are learning, who think, and feel, and act within their means. They are not machines to be manipulated from the top, although they can be led. But changing their direction takes time. They are inherently conservative, much more easily stalled by negative forces than motivated by positive ones. The culture of anecdotally-fed carping negativity that permeates so much of our contemporary political discourse fastens a huge drag on our government organizations and their leadership. We indulge ourselves in strident expressions of polarized over-simplified opinions, and expect our public servants, elected or not, to sort out the mess. Then we yell at them from all sides no matter what they do. Stephen Leacock advised us to think of complex issues of social justice as unsolved riddles, to be addressed, not by the simple-minded application of ideology or formulas derived from theory, but by groping our collective humane way forward, guided by Knowledge, Imagination, and Compassion. Anyone got a better idea?

Recent discourse on Electoral Reform and Immigration illustrate this concern very clearly. Discourse on electoral reform became so poisoned that to persist towards change could only make things worse. The government therefore made a decision to postpone. As Mackenzie King said, more or less, when confronted about a broken “promise”: “In politics you do what you can, not what you want.” The voice of experience. The Liberal Party “promise” on electoral reform was perhaps the voice of inexperience. But since when is it a sin to be inexperienced?

Immigration policy is another kind of unsolved riddle. When we engage with the peoples of the world for the purpose of trade and investment, which we yearn to do, then we engage with them also as people. From a practical and moral perspective we cannot have one without the other. We could, of course, adopt the role of brutal exploiters, as colonial powers did and do, but that is not for us, not for the whole us. Deep down we know, in our heart of hearts, that if the money is global, then so are the people, and so is the land. We’ll struggle with that reality, and with its cost, but we will keep trying not to ignore it. So will the Americans, decent people that they are, as they begin to see what the alternative looks like.

New Directions, New Projects, Maybe Even the Occasional New Idea

Leslie and I completed, on September 20th, our 15th and final summer season of Country Supper Storytelling Concerts. In all we performed 573 of these, served and entertained 3,917 people along the way, many of whom became good friends. This whole experience was an almost unalloyed pleasure, the only alloy being occasional exhaustion. As such episodes grew in number and intensity with our advancing age, we decided we should find something new, preferably something where we could do a lot of the work sitting down.

We have always been interested in touring, especially in forms of touring that involved community participation. The Chautauqua model intrigued us, and we experimented with it one year, but it proved too big and too conflictual with our other activities. Now these are reduced, and we are about to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday with our Stephen Leacock’s “My Discovery of the West” Re-Tour 2017 — from 15th to 150th in one fell swoop, or swell foop. Our ports of call will be: Orillia (for a Launch at the Leacock Museum), Thunder Bay (Port Arthur and Fort William in Leacock’s day), Sioux Lookout (Leacock didn’t go there but the train does now), Winnipeg, Regina, Saskatoon, Edmonton, Calgary, Medicine Hat, Vancouver, and Victoria. We will launch on October 20th 2017 and end November 28th. We will tell that story, if you would like to follow it, as it evolves on: www.voyageurstorytelling.ca & https://mariposabyconway.wordpress.com/

We are also becoming the home of a Leacock Database in which we will catalogue every piece that he wrote and every public speech that he spoke to the extent that we can locate them and with as much detail as we can find. The extent is considerable thanks to the bibliographical prowess of Carl Spadoni and his predecessors. Details are bounteous in some cases, sparse in others. We will complete the first round of that project in another month. Right now the database has about 2,400 records, including 1,300 pieces and about 800 speeches. When it came to verbiage, Stephen Leacock was a prolific man.

When that project settles in for the long pull, looking for details, we will start a database for the Canadian writers of magazine articles from Confederation to World War II. This grew out of our efforts to gather Leacock articles from Canadian literary magazines like the magnificently named The Canadian Magazine of Politics, Science, Art and Literature (1893 to 1938) and Maclean’s Magazine (1896 to the present). We started asking ourselves who these people were, many of them obviously amateurs, who wrote for these magazines with such dedication and spirit. Where did they live? How did they live? What are their stories? We are going to find out. We have seen enough already to know that their stories are enchanting, diverse, often up-lifting, occasionally tragic, invariably interesting. Stay tuned.

Then there is politics. This blog began out of my interest in writing about political matters. Other projects have interfered with the flow, but my interest persists. In particular, I am concerned about what I believe to be immaturity and sloppiness in our political discourse, particularly as reported in our beloved news media, but also in the pronouncements of both government and opposition. At the top of my list of immaturities is their, and our, perpetual carping negativity in discussion of public affairs. The political oppositions whom we hire to find fault with our governments seem to find it very difficult to get their eyes up out of the mud, after the manner of worms, in which course they are followed with mindless glee by the news media. A close second is both of their, and our, addiction to sensational anecdotes without any regard for the context or relative frequency of these episodes. Thirdly, I have a particular grief with the news media for their lust for reporting predictions without regard for the quality of the data behind them, the rigour of the analysis, or the often highly self-interested perspective of the person making them. And fourthly, I believe that maturity requires us to stop thinking of the stated intentions of our governments as “promises” and cultivate a more sophisticated understanding of what politicians are saying to us when they campaign.

And what of our governments? What share do they deserve of the obloquy? Well, obviously, they deserve all they get when they “spin” at our perceptions for the purpose of making themselves look good or make mistakes out of incompetence or dishonesty. I believe also, however, that the business of government is extraordinarily complicated and difficult, often because we the people make it so, and that a mature and sophisticated understanding requires recognition that things will often go wrong for reasons other than incompetence or dishonesty. In a huge multitude of instances they also go right, or at least well enough, and we need to celebrate from time to time all the people who make it so, at all levels, elected and hired, federally, provincially and municipally. These hard-working people are our employees, at least indirectly, and we collectively carry an employer’s responsibility, which does not consist in ignoring them when they do well, defecating on them from a great height when things go wrong, and generally thinking of them in the worst and most simplistic way we can find.

All this should keep me busy enough to hold boredom at bay. As for the inevitable decay of mind, well, maybe it will slow that down too.

Toward the Heart of Lightness, Step by Step

January 4, 2016

2016 ho! Here we go! Whither this blog?

The Detroit writer Anna Clark (http://annaclark.net/blog/) has proposed that the purpose of blogging should be “to practise the public art of writing and reflection”. That makes good sense to me, as long as it means that the writing and the reflection go hand in hand in mutually reinforcing support.

While retaining my freedom to tack hither and yon as circumstances suggest, I would like, in this spirit, to explore these themes in the months ahead:

  1. What does it mean to “do politics differently”? Who should do it? The present government says it wants to do it. What if it tries, but everybody else—opposition parties; journalists; voters—carries on in the old accustomed way? What happens to that good intention then? (We, in our old accustomed way, would not call it an “intention”, rather a “promise” with all the weight that word carries.)  I predicted last year, before the election, that we would be governed by the “mind-set” of the government, not by the platform or the “promises” or any such ephemera. We certainly were with the last lot. We will learn much more about the new mind-set in the months and years ahead.
  2. As I read more and more political journalism, I think I am noticing some common themes in the mind-set there, and despite all the undeniably good work, I too often see examples of what I think is poor practice: over-simplification of complex public affairs, particularly economic ones; careless use of terminology; an unhealthy appetite for the making and reporting of predictions, coupled with an uncritical attitude; a primitive notion of what “balanced reporting” means, particularly when coupled with a somewhat confused notion of what it means to “hold the government to account”; a naive attachment to the idea that journalists are, or should be “storytellers”. We rely on journalists to report on and interpret what is happening, which they assume, quite rightly, to be an important public role.
  3. During the election campaign one expression on many lips was “the economy”. Good grief, that it has come to this! Down, I say, with the prevailing hideous over-simplification, ill-informed misconception, weak understanding, unsupportable prognostication, and slipshod interpretation on all sides. If “the economy” is so important, then why do we tolerate such persistent misinformation and vacuity of conversation, from governments, journalists, and commentators of all kinds, and in our own minds and ways of speaking? Enough!
  4. One particular issue on which I intend to say much, and in as many directions as I can find, has to do with electoral reform. But not here. This post is getting long enough as it is.
  5. Another has to do with the policy outwash from the recent climate conference in Paris, and the apparent international resolve to stop dumping our garbage into the air. Would that we could come up with the same wide resolve concerning water and land, but one step at a time, I guess. We will have to find new ways of producing and consuming, which means new cultures. This would be easier if we could discover new and appropriate ways of thinking and believing or, even more richly, new ways of being. We have made these kinds of transitions before, and we can do it again.
  6. I intend to explore the idea of “multiculturalism” (a good idea, as far as it goes, but a terrible word) which I believe to be not the same thing as pluralism, which is the higher ideal.
  7. All these themes, and any more that may emerge from events, have to do with my advocacy for Comprehensive Justice, by which I mean Social Justice, Economic Justice, Environmental Justice, and other forms, with their inter-relationships intact. Both “comprehensive” and “justice” are packed words that need to be unpacked in practical ways. We’re not talking philosophy here, we’re talking politics.
  8. As did, interestingly enough, Stephen Leacock, which takes us over into the other blog: https://mariposabyconway.wordpress.com/

All this should keep me busy enough.

A good year to all!

Starting from some Thoughts on “Big Government”

December 16, 2015

A recent article in iPolitics by the (politically) late Alberta MP Brent Rathgeber, concerning the ambitions of the Alberta Wildrose Party (“Can Brian Jean unite the right in Alberta? Don’t bet on it.”), asserted as follows:

“It’s a myth that Alberta is built on conservative bedrock. For decades, from Lougheed through Getty and Klein, Albertans demanded the best of everything — the widest highways, the best schools and hospitals. When resource revenues were plentiful, governments could keep taxes low. When natural gas and crude prices tanked, governments racked up huge deficits. But at no time did Albertans lose their appetite for big, expensive government.”

I lived in Alberta for 25 years, raising my family and making my living, and because of the nature of my work, I probably got around more than most. I don’t think Albertans have any appetite for “big expensive government”. I think they have an entirely commendable appetite for excellent public services, or at least those public services the majority of them use. Their appetite for paying for them may not be quite as keen, nor for those services used by the less fortunate minority among them, but do they thus set themselves apart from the main stream of Canadians? I am not sure than anything much sets Albertans apart from the main stream of Canadians except their particular regional history and the extraordinary wealth of their land. But that is not what I am writing about today. No, it’s Mr. Rathgeber’s use of the term “big government”.

Big government. Its undertones of tyranny and oppression rattle the ganglions of anyone with even a teaspoon of libertarian blood. But surely it belongs more in the language of propaganda than of reasonable political conversation.

When I am driving down a good highway, I do not feel the heavy hand of government oppression, only the productive hand of basic infrastructure. When I visit the doctor or am admitted to hospital, I do not feel the tread of an iron boot, only the concern of my fellow citizens wishing me well and helping me get there. And so it is with a whole range of common experiences where I feel the beneficent hand of public service. And when I feel myself regulated, which I do not to any inconvenient extent, I feel my community protecting itself, and me, and my descendants, from the harm of abuses and damage.

Of course our government is big. We expect it to do a great deal of work to support and improve our lives, and to do that in ways that are fair and equitable. And we know perfectly well, when we think about it, that if we left these responsibilities to private initiative, the apparent “efficiency” would come at the expense of  “comprehensive justice”, if I may so roll social, economic and environmental justice into one term. And while we may squirm under the need to pay for comprehensive justice, we have no desire to abandon it as a standard. Our voting in the recent election proved that.

All big organizations are to some extent inefficient. If you think governments are exceptionally that way, take a close look sometime at big oil, or big finance, or big transportation, or big anything else. And as for big military, good grief! The illusion of efficiency in big organizations, public or private, comes not from some kind of economic virtue, but from their power to do the work that we want done.

Power is always a two-edged sword, and in an imperfect world both edges are going to cut. We do our part when we, as voters and as consumers, work to sharpen the edge that does the work, and blunt the edge that does the harm.

What does all this mean, in the specifics before us these days? I think it means, first of all, being a little patient with our new government—both the executive side and the opposition—to give them time to do what we elected them to do. If we jump all over them, telling them, after a few short weeks on the job, that they are doing it all wrong and should be doing something different, then we are being the very worst kind of bosses, the kind that breeds inefficiency. I think we need to slap down the people who are talking that way, and notice where they are coming from.

We have elected ourselves a government of people who say, no doubt with some sincerity, that they want to “do politics differently”, and an opposition that wants to find “a new tone”, which also means doing politics differently from their side of the fence. But what does it do to their resolve, and their capacity, if we come at them in the same old way? Perhaps the idea of “doing politics differently” applies also to us and to the journalistic folks on whom we rely for much of our data.

In particular, perhaps we should ask ourselves whether all the carping criticism, so pervasive in our politics, journalism, and conversation, is good for our body politic, or our personal mental health for that matter. I won’t say any more, because I don’t want to be carpingly critical even of carping criticism, but I for one would prefer that we find a healthier, more balanced way to judge the performance of our elected officials and “hold them to account”, to use the fashionable phrase.

Holding them to account. Accountability. We hear these words all the time. They are spoken as if self-explanatory, and self-justifying. In the fields of politics and public service, however, they are full of rich technicality. Do we ever think much about what they mean, or the kind of data we need to realize them in a balanced and correct way? Or the kind of clear thinking required to make them just and expedient?

In other words, how can we hold to account the people who are holding “them”—whoever they are—to account on our behalf? How can we do that justly and fairly, in a balanced way, with good data? How can we do it without indulging in carping criticism? And if we are glib and careless in how we do it, ought we to be held to account? And by whom?

Doing politics differently: Quite a challenge, on all sides. A good one, worth answering.