The U.S. Election

I was going to say something wordy and elaborate, but here it is from the Wall Street poet, via Hit and Run:

American politics in sum:

Republican ideas are dumb;

And Democrats have none.

I guess for Republicans it's: make war somewhere, it doesn't matter much where; and cut taxes. Ramesh Ponnuru seems convinced the pro-life position will be a winner, sooner rather than later.

For Democrats? Try to hold on to the gains of the past--entitlement programs, the abortion liberty?

Pipes and WMDs

Wasn't Daniel Pipes once a distinguished academic, dedicated to the search for truth?

After all the debate about WMDs, and whether the Bushies were clueless or lying, the best Pipes can say is: Saddam deliberately deceived the world, almost to the end, and many people working for Saddam were deceived or misinformed, so Western intelligence had no reliable information.

"Coalition intelligence agencies, not surprisingly, missed the final and unexpected twist in a long-running drama. Neither those agencies nor Western politicians lied; Saddam was the evil impostor whose deceptions in the end confused and endangered everyone, including himself."


No doubt, the people Dick Cheney thought were solid gold for information were full of crap. Does that mean Cheney was an innocent, who couldn't possibly have done better? Or has this been one more job at which he has proved totally incompetent, like being CEO of Halliburton?

Pipes does not mention the difference between nukes and other so-called WMDs. As Yglesias reminds us, it was always questionable whether anything other than a nuke is a WMD in any meaningful sense. Weren't the old-fashioned bombs that destroyed German and Japanese cities "weapons of mass destruction"? From the beginning there has been a big element of Walt Disney baby talk to all of this. "Evil people must have evil weapons--new inventions that they force enslaved scientists to come up with on their island fortresses."

On nukes, in contrast to chemicals and biologicals, it seems most likely the Bushies were lying rather than clueless. (See here and here). The latest and best information was to the effect that Saddam had no nukes. The Bushies ignored this awkward fact, and indeed rushed to invade, and forced UN inspectors to leave, partly because they didn't want any more embarrassing disclosures of nothing, nothing, nothing.

See again here.

Of Polygraphs and Other Things

From the Corner, duly linked by Instapundit:

"So Newsweek is reporting that Mary McCarthy denies being the leaker. This despite stories in the press saying that she failed a polygraph and admitted to it."

Somebody needs to do a full study of methods, tools, programs, etc., that only Americans could possibly believe in. For starters:

Polygraph tests--many good studies show there are lots of false results
IQ tests
SAT tests
5 stages of grief
Virtually any 3, 5, 7, 10, or 12-step plan, including the famous 12 steps
Method acting

How does this naive faith keep erupting? First, a more or less honest admission of not knowing something important--like what another person is actually thinking, or is actually capable of. Second a determination to be decisive, to get on with things, to have hope for a better future. Not, above all, to be indecisive, nuanced, or a hand-wringer. Third, a determination to believe--to kid oneself--that some fairly simple tool, ready to hand, will actually plumb the depths of the mystery in question. Problem solved, dust off one's fingers, have a beer.

Maybe one would have to add to this list: military intervention to change hearts and minds. True, it worked in Japan and Germany in World War II--massive bombing of civilians, so that the survivors believed they had no hope at all other than to work with the bombers. There is an argument that it hasn't worked since--possibly because there was no willingness to kill on such a massive scale. Generally speaking, whatever the U.S. did in the Third World during the Cold War turned people away from the U.S., not toward it.

Oh, and let's not forget torture. Maybe the Israelis haven't given up on it completely, but there is some evidence they don't believe it works. As for other countries that practice it, other than the U.S., they probably just think they need some sadists on their side, and they need to provide them with an outlet. Only the Americans would have a moralistic-scientific rationale to the effect that torture will make the world a better place.

UPDATE: As a faithful reader of Hit and Run, I should mention the War on Drugs. Also, in the light of eulogies of Jane Jacobs: urban planning.

Shouldice Hospital

I turned 50 this month, and went in for hernia surgery.

Living in southern Ontario, it was recommended that I go to Shouldice Hospital, which does only hernia surgery. Of the three or so techniques available, Shouldice does only one (except when they have tested the others), and they do it on a large scale, with great efficiency. They attract patients from all over the world. They now seem indispensable in this area, but they are controversial in the context of Medicare and single-payer public health insurance.

Jack Layton, leader of the federal New Democratic Party, was forced to admit in the recent federal campaign that he had surgery at Shouldice, a private hospital, despite the fact that he presents himself as a defender of a public-only system. His defence was that the hospital took OHIP for the procedure itself (true), his referral there was totally seamless, and he literally didn't even know it was private. The clincher: it's a "non-profit" hospital.

Well: I'm not sure anyone outside the hospital knows everything about their finances. They are apparently allowed to pay dividends to two owners--the surviving son and daughter of the original Dr. Shouldice--and then they are required to pay the remaining profit to the Ontario government. Hence: net non-profit.

But: one report says there is profit-sharing with staff. Does this come out of the dividends paid to the owners? Does the dividend increase with better performance, cutting costs while maintaining quality, for example, so that there is money to share with staff?

The hospital is non-profit, however exactly that is calculated, but the "clinic" is a for-profit. Where is the line drawn? The examinations are in the clinic, paid by OHIP? Lab work?

The only rooms available are semi-private, which are not covered by OHIP in Ontario. People on welfare cannot benefit from Shouldice. On the other hand, one of my fellow patients had information that our public hospitals now charge $500 or more for a semi-private room; Shouldice is a bargain for patients or insurers at $110 or $120. (I have extended health which pays for a semi-private room).

Shouldice confine themselves to patients who are "otherwise healthy"--able to walk in to an examination, etc. They will famously tell people to lose weight and get more fit before surgery.

They have learned to cut down the time on the operating table, and the recovery time. You find yourself in a supportive community--you stay the afternoon and night before surgery, getting a chance to talk to people who are a day or two ahead of you in the process--proably shuffling around. Then you have the tough surgical day, when you are encouraged to do at least some walking after four hours of rest. Day 3, the day after surgery, half of the external clips or stitches come out; Day 4, the other half. You are usually encouraged to stay one more night, and leave on Day 5. I left on Day 4.

They are very good at what they do. Why can't they become a model for other specific surgeries that could then be taken out of our overburdened public hospitals? Certain orthopedic procedures, for example?

The unions don't like Shouldice, and they emphasize the cherry-picking of healthy patients--which helps reinforce the impression private sector good and efficient, public sector bad and inefficient.

At least some questions arise that would arise with any model of private care within an overall public system. If doctors and nurses are given a chance to work exclusively in such a pleasant environment, with healthy patients, will they take it, and leave the already worse-off patients in a ghetto of inferior care? Is it true that the public sector can build an all-public institution like Shouldice? Can all the proper incentives be created? If so, why has it not been done?

I was very pleased with my care. You definitely feel that you have a nasty incision, but also that the people around you know how you can get back into your routine as quickly as possible.

For more reading: See also here. Also good old Wikipedia: it may not be easy to compare results at different hospitals.

Blog Closing Down?

I'm thinking of shutting down the blog. Hopefully I can archive everything somehow. In any case, I will cut and paste anything I still find interesting into some Word files.

Partly I am losing interest in the sites that I scan, and in this one; partly I want to save money; partly I need to do some "real" writing. I think some of my posts have helped with the latter goal, but many have not.

I can't go dark without saying something about Frank magazine. (Home here).

It first came to Canada as at least a loose attempt to imitate Private Eye in the UK. There were three people involved, I think all Brits, and it began in Halifax. Eventually there were two distinct publications, in Halifax and Ottawa, and the Ottawa one run by Michael Bate was the most outrageous. After a few years he sold the name and probably the subscription list to a guy who wanted a different focus--more on Bay Street/business, less on politics and media celebrities. Boring, and it didn't last.

To my delight, the "old" Frank is back. There is some unpleasantness about people who paid for subscriptions, and are now being asked to pay again, but it is very much the publication it was. Not always funny, but funny enough, insightful enough, and sometimes even breaking enough news, to be well worth buying.

A small sample. Ontario recently had a strike by the faculty of our community colleges. A woman named Joy Warkentin was the head negotiator for the colleges--management.

Joy, who pulls down $147,560 from the province, has not always been such a staunch defender of our publicly-funded education system. Indeed, for a time, she home-schooled her son, Kris, aboard her sailboat.

Pro-home schooling argument: Kris went on to the engineereing program at the University of Waterloo.

Anti-home schooling argument: In his third year, just days before starting his co-op placement, he beat graduate student David John Zaharchuk to death.

Perhaps no one else in Canada would say this in any way--certainly not in a funny way.

For years Bate had it in for Brian Mulroney in a big way ("Byron Muldoon--You Can't Polish a Turd"). Mulroney's wife Mila became Imelda because of an alleged penchant for a lot of shoes.

This story about a drunk driver is partly about Mulroney:

What a kick to see my old friend Matt Brownlee, noted automotive oenophile, beat his latest drunk driving rap by pleading brain damage--resulting from a previous drunk driving accident!

[blockquote][snip--the most recent episode of drunk driving/high-speed chase] Matty, whose rap sheet is chock-a-block with such hi-jinx, is best known for killing Linda LeBreton-Holmes and her 12-year-old son Brian in 1996.... LeBreton-Holmes was the daughter of Senate Government Leader Marjory LeBreton, and the funeral was attended by a who's who of Tory bluebloods including ... Byron and Imelda Muldoon.[/blockquote]

Certain awkward matters were appropriately left unmentioned on this sad occasion, like ... the fact that Imelda's shopping buddy, Bonnie Brownlee, is Matt Brownlee's aunt.

UPDATE: I almost forgot. Mulroney became "Muldoon" in Frank because of a Ronnie Reagan story. Someone mentioned the then-Prime Minister of Canada to then-President Reagan. Reagan, obviously and understandably struggling to come up with a name, said something like "Oh yes, Muldoon." Now this was perfect. There actually was a Muldoon, who had recently been Prime Minister of New Zealand. You could actually trace Reagan's thought process: one of those English-speaking, British type places, mostly white people....

Immigration in the U.S.

Not really my issue--Canada simply doesn't have a large population of "illegals" who may have no particular ambition or skill other than the desire to be here. We test and screen our folks, big time.

But there's a lot of discussion about this on the net. Mickey Kaus is excellent. He wants tougher border enforcement now, and maybe some degree of amnesty later, when it doesn't seem to be simply caving in. He wonders why Democrats don't go for this--especially since African American males are probably the ones most hurt by illegals working for low wages and no benefits. Employers might prefer to hire Chicanos rather than blacks, even at equal wages.

Why then is the Democratic leadership pretty well monolithically opposed to any crackdown on illegals at all? Blacks are their most loyal voters, by a long way. Isn't there a danger of blacks looking to politicians who will protect their interests in the marketplace? The unsettling thought is that the Democrats and the blacks have a corrupt bargain: let's keep saying the system is racist, and can't possibly work for blacks; by way of illegal immigration, let's even ensure the system is skewed away from employing black males. This will be a self-justifying policy to maintain and extend government programs, favourites of Democrats--which will continue to seem the only hope for blacks.

Newsday tippy-toes toward an explanation:

Because of the economic impact, many businessmen, often backers of the GOP, are in favor of keeping the workers, but want a stable work force instead of trying to find and train new workers. Some unions, generally more sympathetic to Democrats, also want a stable work force, which they can then organize and for whom they can try to win better wages and benefits.

So some businesses and some labor unions are on the same side? And some Democrats are on the same side as Bush and other Republicans, but they are opposed by other Republicans?

In general, yes.

Remember there are several broad questions that serve as wedges:

What to do about workers currently in the U.S.?

What to do about those who want to come to the U.S.?

What can be done to protect the borders and improve national security?

The issues have divided the Republicans, with many of the more conservative legislators opposing what they call an amnesty for workers already here, and favoring more enforcement on the borders. They also oppose a guest worker plan, proposed by the president.

OK, but as Kaus asks: why doesn't it divide the Democrats as much or more? Why do the unions want people in the U.S. who are largely unorganized, undercutting the lowest paid people? To scare their diminishing membership into accepting offers from management that would have been rejected only a few years ago?

I just don't get it.

Get Happy

For my birthday, I got a compilation double CD of Harold Arlen songs, performed by jazz musicians.

List of tracks here; review here.

I've been listening to Jazz FM in Toronto as I drive the "new" car we recently assumed the lease on--a very nice 2004 Toyota Matrix. One evening I heard Jack Sheldon, singing and playing trumpet, with Ross Tompkins accompanying on piano, "Over the Rainbow." The announcer either said something about a new Harold Arlen compilation--or I figured out that this was the most likely recent production that the station had played from.

It turns out to be a product of Concord Jazz, drawing on catalogues from various companies going back decades. They generally don't give the date of any of the tracks, but they give the information about who is playing. I guess they wanted to reinforce the idea that this is a new, exciting product, not "old" stuff.

I doubt that it's selling well; I couldn't find it at the biggest music stores I know in Toronto (although I didn't look in the Jazz section--I looked under Harold Arlen), so I ordered it over the Internet. I found out more about Jack Sheldon while I searched; many of his albums have probably not sold well.

Lovely stuff, and the Sheldon-Tompkins is especially nice. The business side makes me think again that all the long-hair music is dying with the public--classical and jazz. For classical, the Three Tenors have made a ton of money, then Andrea Bocelli, and maybe a young Charlotte Church. Who else? For jazz, Diana Krall and Norah Jones are always mentioned--the latter hardly a jazz performer. Miles Davis "Kind of Blue" remains a big seller, and John Coltrane, "A Love Supreme."

More and more people, it seems, want Sarah McLaughlin on the one hand, and 50 Cent on the other.

I remember Jack Sheldon as Merv Griffin's "sidekick," goofing around, part of the opening monologue, as well as playing trumpet and probably singing. In surfing around I've discovered that he sort of played himself on a sitcom that lasted one season: The Girl with Something Extra.

Ross Tompkins played piano in the Tonight Show orchestra led by Doc Severinsen when Johnny Carson was host.

The Globe is so ... Perfect, Don't You Find?

A kind of nice set of articles in today's Globe and Mail. $.

Jan Wong, still working undercover as a maid, reports that she makes less than minimum wage for a 12-hour day, once you factor in travel time. The clients are pigs, and some of them lie to try to cheat the agency. Her best line:

"Maid service, sold by the hour, is now accessible to the vast middle class. The employees work below the radar, without breaks or benefits, for long hours and low pay. Without angst, fanfare or celebrity sing-a-thons, the homes and hearths of ordinary Canadians have become the factory floors of the invisible working poor."

I especially like the part about no "celebrity sing-a-thons"; yes, we all care about suffering people--somewhere else. (Her piece is called "Modern Times"--hmmm, both Chaplin and probably Dickens? Clever).

Margaret Wente, to paraphrase unfairly, notes that it is funny and sort of, I don't know, divine, to see middle-class people "outsourcing" their more tedious chores.

These days, nobody I know bathes her own dog. It's too messy and they're too busy. Besides, there is a vast service industry of experts, many with certificates, who can do it more expertly than you can and for a reasonable fee. It is no longer necessary for you to cook or clean or sew on missing buttons for yourself. You can hire other people to cut your grass, shovel your snow, unplug your toilets and clean the guck out from your eavestroughs. Why bother to design your own garden, plant your own tulips, or install an entire seasonally themed outdoor display four times a year when there are people who can do it for you?

Wente keeps saying these services are provided for "a reasonable charge"; er, does that mean below minimum wage again? At least for the sub-assistant dog groomer who actually gets wet?

Finally, Karen von Hahn complains that people who work in service industries now "whine" at their clients, and without being asked, bring up personal details about themselves, which is clearly rude and even contrary to the notion of "customer service."

Half-jokingly (I would hope), she blames bloggers:

I personally lay the blame for this confusion of public manners and the corresponding rise of whine culture on the blog phenomenon. Without the insistent narcissism of everybody's petty gripes floating about in cyberspace, would everyone feel so entitled to share? In my view, blogging's bad air has trampled that essential trust of civil interaction -- not to dump on others with our own trash -- and turned us all into whine experts, including me, of course, with this column.

There is a bit of this in Ann Althouse (whom I no longer read): why are people on the Internet so mean? (Althouse fits a stereotype of the beautiful woman--say, in Kingsley Amis, remarkably well. How dare people question me, or try to remind me of things like logic and fairness. I'm beautiful, and they're not! See Altmouse). It seems strange, however, to suggest that the Internet is making us ruder when we are off-line, talking to people. Internet communications are different, and sometimes ruder than "real world" communications. I think people can keep that straight--and complaints about the rise of rudeness long pre-date the Internet. With Wong's piece in mind, it's hard not to hear the overtone: these low-paid people should shut up, and know their place.

Surprising Cicero

I've really enjoyed teaching Cicero toward the end of the seminar that was mostly on Aristotle's Ethics.

(The course in general has been an absolute delight--for me a bit like coming back from the dead).

Cicero "On Duties" is in three parts. The first part talks about different ways of life, above all philosophic vs. political (similarly, I would say, to Socratics in general); and then, within "political," calmer administrative civil life rather than military life. Cicero the hero, rather than the generals.

The second part is about how to make oneself useful, and how to make others useful to oneself. The key turns out to be the art of rhetoric--Cicero again, who practised as a lawyer, then made his name as a political orator in the Roman Republic.

The third book opens with a warning that he is now speaking about vulgar or common virtue, not true or philosophic virtue. Then there is a long sermon about the necessity to do the morally right thing, if there is something apparently more advantageous tempting one elsewhere. Much of this anticipates Aquinas, or more generally Catholic natural law, in which one is guided by one's conscience to discover and live by rules that are not difficult for sane people to figure out. He even distinguishes ius gentium from ius civile--although not in connection with international law, where it is most likely to come up now. He spends a lot of time on private business transactions, and the moral necessity of disclosing what you know rather than take advantage of the other party. I guess some of this, and the incipient sense of human rights/international law, would appeal to left-wingers today. Capitalism seems to be more of a dangerous temptation than, say, sex.

International law, including keeping oaths, applies between lawful entities, more or less sovereign countries or cities with legitimate or recognized governments. It doesn't apply at all to "pirates"; Bushies might find support here for Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo as a response to terrorists.

There are lots of Roman examples, some presented as highly moral, others as not quite moral enough. A guy named Regulus was taken prisoner by the Carthaginians. He was freed on his "parole," his promise to return. He also promised to persuade the Romans to give up a bunch of prisoners. Instead, back at Rome, he successfully argued that Rome should keep the prisoners--blatantly violating this part of his oath. The most dangerous, even suicidal part of the promise--the promise to go back, where he was in fact tortured to death, is the part he was faithful to.

Remarkably, after hundreds of pages, towards the very end of the whole book, Cicero says actually the suicidal return of Regulus, apparently faithfully keeping a promise, is not as impressive as it seems at first. The way Rome was in those days, "he had no choice." There are a few brief indications of what this means: the censors, and perhaps special courts of priests, had powers of life and death, based on fear both of themselves and of the gods. Had Regulus stayed, he would not have enjoyed a quiet private life--he would have been stripped of titles, property, probably his life. He had "no choice" but to go back to Carthage--this seems to mean that if he had tried to live in exile, he would have been hunted down and killed.

I suggested in class that Cicero shows he thinks his best students could use rhetorical skills like his to make the citizens of a great republic useful--to persuade them to practice honesty, as earlier Romans did, but without the crude and sometimes unreliable religion they practised. A more rational and consistent morality, perhaps. This might appear to mean: "an enlightened citizen body." But again, Cicero has said all of this is merely vulgar, second-rate virtue. In Socratic terms, the city is still a cave, and a philosopher, apparently including Cicero, has a real sense of descending into a gloomy, uncertain space when he turns his attention to politics.

Of course, Cicero unlike Socrates seems to have regarded the life of action, not the life of contemplation, as Plan A. The same may have been true of Xenophon, and Thucydides. Wise people may come in more than one shape and size.

Observations on Canada

I have a student who has actually thought about Canadian politics.

He seems to be suggesting that Prime Minister Stephen Harper is doing better, and the Liberals are doing worse, than many people think.

Winning 10 seats in Quebec really was a breakthrough for Harper--who speaks French, but has otherwise had little to do with the province. He made some specific commitments about changing Quebec's role, even more than the provincial role in general, within Canada; Quebeckers believed him. Liberals, according to my student, simply have no explanation for this phenomenon. They think if they articulate left-wing values, they will win votes in Quebec as they do in Toronto. But Quebeckers care more about their identity than they do about left wing vs. right wing values; and Liberals have been taught, above all by Trudeau, to tune all that out.

Anyone would say the Liberals could have a tough time out West. Add this to Quebec, and you'd think they would look outside Toronto for a leader. Instead the front-runners for the leadership are all from Toronto, and all share the "Trudeau but somewhat leftwing" perspective. This will win a lot of seats: in Toronto, and to some extent in the other biggest cities. It is Harper, however, who seems to be gaining--winning seats where noone expected him to.

My note of skepticism would be that Bob Rae might be able to make inroads in Quebec--he probably has talked about Quebec identity, and as I recall he was all for the Charlottetown Accord--a dog's breakfast, but partly an honest attempt to satisfy Quebec's aspirations.

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