Friday, December 08, 2006


The Pithlord is delighted to announce that he will have new parental responsibilities in the very near future.

Great news, but it means changes around here.

In order to avoid contributing to Canada's burgeoning divorce rate, I'm going to put the blog on hold for a little while.

I'm not going to post at all until at least the New Year. After that, I will see what level of posting I can reasonably keep up.

I appreciate all the support and links, particularly from Matthew Shugart, Scott Lemieux, Daniel Larison and Andy the Ectomorph (a diverse bunch!). Thanks also to Phillipe Landreville, Supreme Court of Canada portrait photographer, for most of the site's visual content.

Google Ad revenues are in the high one figures!

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Why should he sell your wheat?

Dion is going to bring back the Wheat Board monopoly if and to the extent the Tories undermine it.

One annoying thing about this debate is the presumption that only producers have a legitimate stake in it. Not all wheat is exported, and higher prices for staples is pretty regressive.

It's probably good politics for Dion, though. Liberal support among wheat farmers is zero plus or minus 4% nineteen times out of twenty. However support for the monopoly lines up, getting those votes is still an improvement for the Libs on the status quo.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

You Can't Say That on Pith & Substance

OK, for the first time, I decided to censor a comment. We have a bit of a free-wheeling discussion here about race, ethnicity and culture -- all hot button issues. I felt a comment went over the line, but I guess that compels me to try to state better where the line is.

The accusation of "racism" or "anti-Semitism" has frequently been used to prevent discussion of things Candians need to discuss. At the same time, taboos exist for a reason and on a private site, even the strongest libertarian would accept I can enforce what I think are necessary taboos.

I am willing to hear arguments that some cultures have strengths and weaknesses that others do not. It is possible that various genetically-based traits are differently distributed among different human populations. Not all religions can be true.

However, I expect people not to engage in setting up their own ethnic group as morally and intrinsically superior to everyone else. I am not going to listen to tales of collective guilt. Ethnic slurs (and other incivilities) are verboten.

As I have previously indicated, this site is not a democracy and there is no right of appeal.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Hindsight, Part II

Fred S. reminds me of this unprescient statement by a certain pseudonymous Canadian lawyer:

Well, the purpose of bringing in a francophone has generally been to win francophone votes. Since Dion is more unpopular in Quebec than either Rae or Ignatieff, I don't think he is going to get it. I think he's the sentimental favourite, but sentimental favourites don't win.

Oops. Still two (as yet) unfalsified predictions in that post.

Dion Won't Give Up Dual Citizenship

A bit late, the Toronto Star reports that Dion is a dual French/Canadian citizen, and intends to stay that way.

This actually might change my vote. The citizenship relationship ought to be a big deal. The Canadian government has an obligation to protect Canadian citizens, and I think Canadian citizens have correlative obligations of loyalty to the Canadian state. Same with French citizens to the French state (and the French are more serious about this than we are.) Since you can't have dual loyalties, we shouldn't permit dual citizenship.

It's bad enough that we have so many dual citizens in the ordinary population. To have one of them seek to be Prime Minister is too much.

Update: Andy suggests handing Dion over to the French authorities for treason against the Fifth Republic.

Monday, December 04, 2006


Andy inspires me to a familiar argument:

If you're wondering why we're in Afghanistan or why we (Canadians) should be in Iraq, it is more than anything because we need to counter the notion that all this is feeding on...that the West will risk nothing in defence of its supposed "ideals". Even if one were to concede (in hindsight) that the Iraq invasion wasn't the best thing to do in 2003, it is crucial not to give up now. The establishment, there and in Afghanistan, of moderate, prosperous and democratic Islamic societies is still possible, and one of our last best hopes for a "sustainable" world.

My first complaint is about the parenthetical to the subjunctive concession. Whatever the epistemic benefits of hindsight, they are unnecessary for the conclusion that there exists at least one possible world in which the benefit/cost ratio of the invasion of Iraq, net of opportunity costs, is less than unity. What we know now, we could have known then.

The Pithlord wasted a good deal of time in '02-'03 arguing with Iraq War supporters, so everything about that era -- its music, its fashions and its bar debates -- remains impressed on my memory. Two things stand out in particular:

1. Everybody in the whole world (except the Anglophone centre and right) predicted disaster, more-or-less of the kind that occurred. Hippies did. Gaullists did. Andean peasants, Buchananite reactionaries, John Paul II, Al Gore, the career US military, pulp novelists, realist IR professors and pissy arts students all saw this one coming. I know it's kind of embarrassing for the English-speaking right to admit that they didn't have the foreign policy chops of the Berkeley Women Studies' department, but them's the facts.

2. When one argued with Anglophone righties back in the day, one could almost see them twitch with anticipation of being proven right against all of the persons mentioned in point #1 above. Their narratives of Churchill and Reagan were not really attempts to understand the present in light of the past, but the sweet anticipation of being a vindicated minority (albeit one in possession of the world's only military superpower). If Afghanistan's #1 problem right now was a sense of bourgeois ennui, I can't imagine them taking well to talk of "hindsight being 20/20." No, they would demand nothing less than acknowlegment that History had proven them right.

OK, on to less petty points. Andy's claim is that (a) demography is (if present trends continue) going to deal enormous power to the Islamic world that it currently doesn't have, and therefore (b) it is worth taking risks now so that they will be boring pacifists in fifty years.

Point (a) is impossible to refute altogether. But I doubt that we will see an Islamic ascendancy. If you want to worry about civilizational challenges to the West, I'd still bet on China. Having lots of people -- divided by country, confession and ethnicity -- is not power in the contemporary world.

True, you don't need to be a rival civilization to explode a nuclear device in a major Western city. But you don't need a demographic boom to do that either.

Moderate, prosperous and democratic Islamic societies would be nice. Domesticating Islam -- making it more liberal and bourgeois (which, for now, conflicts with making it more democratic) -- is a good thing. But conservatives are supposed to be the people who ask not whether a project is well-intentioned, but whether it will work. Reducing poverty among the working poor is a good thing -- but the minimum wage might not be. Best alternative technology standards for auto emissions may have negative effects if they price out new cars. Could it be possible that ill-thought out attempts to "democratize" a culture North Americans see no reason to try to learn the first thing about could have even worse effects?

To the extent anyone can make anyone else more bourgeois, it is by doing business with them. If we occupy and militarize, then we give power to precisely the undemocratic, extremists forces of anti-prosperity.

Those were just arguments three years ago. Now they are experience.

As for our reputation for the future, every power in the world suffers defeats. Better to suffer smaller ones than bigger ones, so it is better to cut losses now than later. We should fulfill our commitments in Afghanistan. The US should make sure that the Kurds' security is guranteed (it has no other real allies in Iraq). But we should get clarity about what we are fighting for, and what we are not.

Update: Here is a September 2002 paid announcement in the New York Times setting out the realist case against the war. The key bullet point is, "Even if we win easily, we have no plausible exit strategy. Iraq is a deeply divided society that the United States would have to occupy and police for many years to create a viable state."

Best Federal Program Ever -- Axed

BKN opines:

Seriously though, I'm provisionally impressed by the fact that Dion, unlike his fellow policy-wonk counterpart on the other side of the aisle, seems to believe (as I do) that the state has functions beyond spewing jeep exhaust at brown-skinned foreigners and devising ways to wring a few more drops of vengeance from convicts.

I'm a bit of a law-and-order type myself, and I think populist complaints of an erratic and overly-lenient sentencing system are vindicated by sound empirical work. But I have to raise an objection to the cancellation of a program giving federal inmates free tatoos. Personally, I can't think of a better investment of public money than providing some easy feature for shaky prosectuion visual ID witnesses.

Dion -- Things Could Definitely Be Worse

I am nervous about parties that pick a candidate because he doesn't have the negatives of two more plausible candidates. No doubt the Alberta Tories will survive such things, but the federal Liberals have to exist in a multi-party democracy. We know Dion is a political science professor, has a thin skin, makes Stephen Harper seem like a man of the people, is hard to understand in English and has taken positions that annoy the majority of francophones.

But he got this far. And he has a history of being right (unlike Rae or Ignatieff). I am cautiously optimistic, which is the only kind of optimistic anyone should ever be.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

None of these teams can win

My slightly unfair précis of John Ibbitson's reaction to the Liberal leadership campaign's first ballot results. Somehow, though, somebody has to win.

Note that the calculation of the total number of votes required to win is off. The Liberal Party of Canada can't seem to divide by two. Maybe they are subtly trying to set up an Adscam defence -- no corruption, just bad math skills!