Thursday, October 31, 2013

A Political Conversation

Of late, a term has come into use that is irritating in the extreme, or at least irritating to me.

Herewith my gripe.

From time to time (actually not often enough) politicians are confronted with the results of a bad decision, or were queried on why nothing has been done to resolve a long-standing issue. In the past, you always had a chance of obtaining an answer or being presented with a possible course of action.

Not so today. Now we get a response that the politician is engaging in a "conversation" about the issue, or intends to have such a "conversation" on the topic. With whom that "conversation is" to be held is vague, but in the mind of the politician, the response appears serious and action-oriented, and they to a man (or woman) are ecstatic about stumbling upon such a weasel word.

To my way of thinking, based on Aristotle's Nichomachean Ethics, this response is both misleading and immoral. Misleading because it suggests indefinite future action , and immoral because it takes an honest request for information and betrays that request.
After all, what really is a conversation? At its simplest, it is an exchange of views on a topic. For our purposes it matters not a whit what that topic is, be it on mosaic tiles, sycamore trees, rogue seals or whatever. The heart of the matter is the exchange of information.

What, pray tell, is being exchanged when a politician responds to a request or clarification on an issue, and offers the reply that "We are shortly going to have a conversation about that."

What on earth does that mean? I certainly do not know, but I am certain that  a specific answer to the query or clarification request is highly unlikely to emerge from "the conversation".

Aristotle, who held politicians in high regard, would be appalled.

Time, then, for readers to engage in their own conversations on this issue. 


Thursday, October 24, 2013

Ill Chosen Words

I have returned from France, where I enjoyed myself immensely, aided and abetted by the Compte de Rienville and Parisian haute cuisine.*  I wanted to "stay in the mood" as it were, and thus for this week's post will avoid getting enmeshed in the trials and tribulations that afflict countries at the present. Rather, I should like to draw to the reader's attention some words and phrases that really should never have employed in the manner that they presently exist.

Here are three examples.

Blimp. This word is particularly ill-suited to its purpose. Think about it. It hits one's ears as "be limp", thus urging a state of collapse and not what you want in your mind if you are hundreds of metres above the ground. In this interpretation it also has unfortunate sexual connotations -- but enough said. A better choice: dirigible.

Fracking. Environmentalists have a field day with this term, and justly so. Now in this post I am not here to get into the pros and cons of fracking, but to lament the easy attack avenue offered by the term. I have often seen in publications damning the process the phrase "fracking the earth" as if the earth was some helpless damsel in distress, and in danger of losing her virtue.

There may be a case to be made here, but the term makes it too easy to attack. A better choice: Horizontal retrieval.

Idle No More. This phrase, used by Canada's First Nations to drum up support for their cause, borders on the silly. If you look at it in terms of semantics, it avers that the First Nations tribes were once idle, but now are not.  Is this the image First Nations wish to project?  Have Tecumseh and Joseph Brant been forgotten?

That's the trouble with not thinking these things through. So former Congresswoman Bella Abzug, who had no use for the term "housewife" because it implies a wife (or wives) somewhere else.
In the case of the First Nations, a better choice would be Dependent No More.

Of course, using language with skill and ability is difficult, and one can easily get carried away into nonsense. Here is the 18th Century Irish legislator Sir Boyle Roche commenting on things to come: "All along the untrodden paths of the future I can see the footprints of an unseen hand."

I rest my case.


* I offered the good Lady the observation that haute cuisine could also mean eating a meal on the moon. She threw Jamie Oliver's latest book at me. -- Ed.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Throne Speech: A Bridge Too Far?

Historically, the Speech From The Throne in a parliamentary democracy is an outline of what the government of the day intends to enact during its legislative term. There is a fair amount of pomp and pageantry connected with this event, including a formal parade of MP's entering the Senate Chamber* led by the Black Rod (Google the term) with the Prime Minister and Governor General (representing the Queen) close behind.

The substance of the Speech is invariably vague, and specific details of the proposals and their budgetary implications follow at a later date. If ever. Thus there is much spoken about how fiscally responsible the government is, how the deficit will be curtailed, how all classes of society will benefit, and, this being a Conservative government, how the Middle Class will receive specific attention in terms of supporting policies.

All lovely. All non-specific and fuzzy.

With one exception.

But first, a small digression. In the British TV program "Yes, Minister" whenever Minister Hackett would propose something real, needed and comprehensible, his Secretary, Sir Humphrey Appleby, would look at him warily and state, "Oh, that's bold, Minister. Bold!"

This reaction would worry Hackett, and shortly after, following some brilliant dialogue,  the initiative would be scrapped.

Our Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, has had a similar "bold" moment, with no Sir Humphrey in sight to warn him.

The issue? Allowing the electorate to pick and choose and pay for only the TV channels they wish. This is instantly understood by the electorate -- we are not talking here of the role of long term debentures as a debt reducing strategy -- and, only one day after the speech, I have it on good authority that cable and satellite companies are already being swamped by clients with their selections already in hand, and happily totting up the cost savings.

What the PM didn't stress was the length of time this would take. The channel providers will fight this initiative as hard as they can -- dollars are at stake, as well as (you can be sure) immense "technical difficulties" in bringing this about.

With no Sir Humphrey around to help in dealing with the outcry as the electorate realizes that such channel selection will be very slow or not coming about at all, the PM will have no course but to hurl the whole mess into the lap of the Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission. The CRTC will then takes it usual glacial time in examining this, funding a number of 'exploratory studies on the importance of Canadian content' done by the likes of Maud Barlow or David Suzuki, and then holding a number of hearings on the issue (at various plush hotels).

Thus when this comes about (more likely if) we are probably talking somewhere around 2019 or 2020. If we're lucky.

And while the electorate will forgive a lot, on this issue they won't.

Mind you, if the PM has staked his career on this, and the channel providers are being hopelessly intransigent, there is always the War Measures Act..... 


*It is remotely conceivable that this Chamber will not be in existence for any future Speech From The Throne. One can but hope -- L.S.S.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Good Things Do Not Grow, In Ontario

To Paris, and then to the chateau of the Compte de Rienville for a sorely needed change of venue.  Ontario at this point in time is a rather grim place, what with a totally incompetent government (Liberals) in charge, a fiscal deficit that mounts daily, and an opposition that refuses to bring the government down (NDP) or is saddled with an unelectable leader (Conservatives).

Moreover, I find it incredible that the media appear far more concerned with the peccadilloes of  Toronto's Mayor, Rob Ford, and devote much less attention to the follies of the provincial government. The latest folly: a gas plant removal project costing Ontario taxpayers over ONE BILLION DOLLARS.

On the other hand, Mayor Ford has saved Toronto taxpayers a swatch of money by sound budgeting and the elimination of a slew of unnecessary expenses done under the rubric of "We the Council know what's best for you." This is social engineering at its worst, and I, for one, am glad to see its demise.

You can see, then, why I was glad to remove myself from all this sturm und drang and settle nicely into the arms of -- well, we won't go there.

After some needed... er... recreation, the Compte opined on all my concerns, stating that much of the mess in the world today can be traced to being enslaved by ideology.

"For instance," he said, "in your Ontario case, the ideology would be that of hanging on to power at whatever the cost. Wasn't there some by-election stuff involved?"

"There was,' I replied "and a billion dollars seems a bit pricey for two seats."

"Not if you have forsworn your integrity for an ideology that sees staying in office as not only an important thing, but the only thing."

But I had enough of doom and gloom, and left to put on a certain outfit I knew the Compte liked. After all, I was not going to let the side down as we entered the Tour d'Argent. I was even preparing a toast to its possible founder, Henri IV. Thus my ideology: Without harming others, get as much happiness as you can.

Works for me.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Two Oddities

In reviewing the past week, a week that was certainly not (as John Cameron Swazye would have put it) "filled with those events that alter and illuminate our times," two rather odd things stood out.

1) The first involves the government of the United States of America. Or rather, the non-government, I find it truly amazing that Washington D.C. has become a synonym for a children's playground. with a game of "I'm the king of the castle" in full swing. Normally, this might produce a gigantic yawn and a tired, "So what". Unfortunately, this game has brought aspects of the federal government to a screeching halt because Congress appears unable to pass a day-to-day operating budget.

Of course, it takes two to tango, and thus we have the Republicans willing to pass said budget if only the Democrats and President Obama remove his already passed health care bill. As a sop, the Republicans said that implantation of the bill should be postponed for a year. The Democrats (at least most of them) refused, leading to the present gridlock.

Salaries and benefits of a slew of federal workers have come to a stop, and certain federal areas such as the National Parks, the Smithsonian, and various museums have ceased to function, I also bring to your attention the fact that the salaries and benefits of the senators and congressional representatives continue, as swell their continued enrolment in what really is a gold-plated health care plan. Of course, they are the nation's 'leaders' and hence above all such strictures.

An odd situation indeed.

2) In a more light-hearted vein, I turn to the second oddity. At present, THE TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS ARE IN FIRST PLACE IN THE ENTIRE NATIONAL HOCKEY LEAGUE, EASTERN AND WESTERN DIVISIONS! This would seem to bode well for a Stanley Cup in 2014.*

Now, as Samuel Pepys would write in is Diary, "And so to bed."


* Or not. The Leafs have only played two games, the most of any of the other clubs, and there are 80 yet to be played. Still, the optimism of the Lady is heartening, -- Ed.