Thursday, June 26, 2008

NDP Strategy Suggestion: Look West

Western Canada has long had an affinity for progressive populism. The Winnipeg General Strike of 1919 set off the labour movement within Canada and left a strong impression on Tommy Douglas, who would go on to lead the Saskatchewan Co-operative Commonwealth Federation to victory.

The Liberals, in many ways, soured their chances in the Parries. The National Energy Program was the first blow and made most of Alberta inaccessible to the Federal Liberals. Jean Chrétien’s tasteless sandbag photo ops, during the 1997 Red River Flood and the (horrendously ill-timed) election that same year ensured that never again would the Liberals possess 12 MPs in Manitoba.

The NDP could have capitalized on this Western discontent had they listened to Dave Barrett. Instead, they put all their eggs in the Eastern basket, especially trying to make inroads in Quebec. Focusing on Quebec has brought the NDP some gains, but only recently after gruelling and tedious work. I'm not saying that Quebec ought to be ignored, the NDP should target ridings that are Anglophone and multicultural, like many in Montreal, or ridings with many workers who are disaffected with the BQ and looking for a social democratic alternative. But an equal effort must be made to make inroads west of Ontario.

There are many left of centre who are west of Ontario. These western progressives are concentrated in western Canada's urban centres, like Winnipeg, Regina, Saskatoon Edmonton, Vancouver and Victoria. There are some family farmers who may also fit the bill of "western progressives", mainly organized in groups like the National Farmer's Union.

Since 1919 matters have undoubtedly changed. Due to the rising cost of farm equipment, agriculture has been a field mainly restricted to those with upper level incomes. The low income and middle income farmers that made up the base of Tommy Douglas and Ed Schreyer aren't as prominent today. Most rural ridings are a sea of Tory blue. Even urban ridings in cities like Edmonton that extend far out into the countryside yield Tory MPs.

The strategy I suggest to counter this, which might be a bit simplistic as I'm not a professional strategist, is to target urban westerners in such ridings on issues that resonate well with urban dwellers. Issues like poverty alleviation, social programs and the state of infrastructure in Canada’s cities. Then target farmers on issues like rising agricultural costs, the plight of family farms and preserving the Canadian wheat board (this is a polarizing move and will only give the NDP pro-Wheat Board farmers, hopefully it'll be enough). If such a two-pronged approach is tried in Western ridings that encompass both urban and rural elements, it will yield a few more seats for the NDP in the west.

Of course, the New Democrats shouldn't just market their policies towards western Canadians; they should consult westerners on policy matters. Have open town halls meetings where people west of Ontario can voice their opinions to New Democratic Party officials. Have membership drives west of Ontario and attend/speak at National Farmers Union rallies.

The New Democratic Party of Canada could get back into Saskatchewan, shut out the Liberals from Western Canada, and lock onto the Western progressive vote if they followed a strategy similar to my proposal.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Cherniak is Wrong

Cherniak, a right-leaning Liberal, posted “The NDP is Sick”. His post was short on verifiable facts, riddled with anecdotes, and unlikely to convince anyone other than a diehard anti-Dipper that the NDP is a “useless party”. Ironically, his intention was to convince “reasonable NDP voters” that their vote would be of greater value if spent on the Liberal Party.

Cherniak focused on the NDP’s “insignificance” in Parliament and “extremists” in the Party. Specifically, Cherniak complained about the NDP celebrating for winning less than 10% of the seats in the House of Commons. To that I respond that getting almost 10% of the seats in the House of Commons is cause for celebration, because it’s an improvement from last election and in a minority government almost 10% is influential. In the 38th Parliament, the NDP represented just over 6% of the House of Commons yet made the Liberals conceded to their budget demands.

The “extremists” Cherniak talks about probably include overzealous anti-Globalization protesters, particularly those protesting at the Quebec Summit of the Americas. Violent protesters were a minority and many activists raised legitimate concerns about Globalization as it is currently conducted.

Cherniak proceeds to claim that extremist NDP voters “…support some "right" of suicide bombers to kill innocent Israelis” without any reference. This is likely a strawman, Dippers and left-wing Canadians are concerned about human rights violations by Israel in the occupied territories and see where Palestinians are coming from. Nobody in the NDP that I’m aware of, however, supports terrorism as a means for Palestinians to gain independence or human rights and if Cherniak could provide a link or source that would be appreciated.

Cherniak is also up in arms about the NDP taking “…just enough anti-Conservative votes to ensure that the Conservatives would win in January.” It is interesting that Cherniak thinks of voters in terms of negatives (voting against someone) rather than positives (e.g. left-wing voters).

Cherniak should take a lesson from recent political history and realize that had the Liberals been reelected it would be little different. For 12 years the Liberals were in power and at an all-time high in terms of inactiveness. Aside from Paul Martin's budget cuts which went way beyond the amount necessary to balance the budget and led to the sorry state of healthcare this country is in. Heck, Stephen Harper hasn’t done nearly as bad as Jean Chrétien & infighting Co. This is because of a minority situation and strong left-wing opposition.

Cherniak did a follow-up to his first post, “The NDP is Sick - Part II” where he tries to give his previous rant an intellectual foundation. Cherniak begins his argument with the reasonable premise that politics is all about compromise. But he then presents a false dilemma, that the NDP voter must either be an uncompromising ideologue or hope that the party moves to the centre to replace the Liberal Party like the U.K. Labour Party did to the U.K. Liberal Party.

But Dippers don’t have to be Third-Way centrists. A New Democrat can support compromise up to a point, but not far beyond that point. In reality the New Democratic Party is the only vehicle to get left-wing policy implemented in Canada. The Liberals, if given a majority, are inactive or corrupt. In a minority they lean left or right depending on where the biggest threat is. It took a strong CCF opposition to pressure Mackenzie King into starting Canada’s social safety net, it took a strong CCF opposition to pressure the Liberals to introduce healthcare, and it took a strong NDP opposition to pressure Paul Martin into funding social programs with 2005 budget. Third-Way centrism, rightfully so, was abandoned when it lost the NDP seats.

Changing policy isn’t the only way the NDP can become mainstream. The political spectrum could shift by the mobilization of groups with previously low voter turnouts, such as the youth or the homeless. Electoral reform could also shift the political spectrum, by giving the nationally dispersed NDP vote more force.

Bev Desjarlais was voted out by the Churchill NDP riding association as the NDP candidate for Churchill and Buzz Hargrove had his NDP membership suspended for telling people to vote Liberal. This annoys Cherniak, who used the two events as example of rigidity in NDP ideology. But Bev Desjarlais voted against a core NDP policy and the riding members should be able to do as they see fit. Hargrove violated the NDP constitution knowingly and such acts shouldn’t go undisciplined.

From reading Cherniak’s two-part rant it’s clear he wants a two-party system in Canada. He tries to show that the futility of voting NDP but isn’t convincing. Underneath all his rationalizing “The NDP is Sick” parts I & II are nothing more than prejudiced rants.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

My thoughts on Pakistan

News about developing countries gives one appreciation for the stability exhibited in an industrialized liberal democracy like Canada. Take, for instance, Pakistan where students want to impose Sharia law on the rest of the country.

Unfortunately, the strongest opposition to Islamic fundamentalism in Pakistan is that of Musharraf’s illegitimate government, which refuses to resort back to liberal democracy.

I say “illegitimate” because Musharraf’s government power doesn’t derive from the people’s consent, i.e. democratic process. He came to power through a coup, a bloodless coup but an anti-constitutional act nonetheless.

One wonders if democratization would result in a secular and tolerant Pakistan, or would it just descend into a Islamist illiberal democracy. While Islamic fundamentalism dominates northern Pakistan, liberalization in the cities makes me optimistic enough to say Pakistan would head into a more liberal direction if the government was democratized.

On another note, flooding has left 1.3 million Pakistanis homeless. I suspect there will be some grievances over the little aid getting to those affected, though floods have hit Pakistan on a large scale before.

Those are my loosely connected thoughts on Pakistan.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Retroactively, Happy Canada Day

Yes, yes I’m late. I didn’t announce Happy Canada Day on July 1. I was out of town, away from my computer during Canada Day. Since I’m late I might as well add something of substance to this announcement.

Canada was founded 140 years ago. Immigration was encouraged and the underground railway had brought many seeking freedom to Canada. Canada was not, however, an equalitarian country.

Wealthy British men had the most rights and women couldn’t even vote. The government was officially racist and adopted a naively assimilationist attitude towards First Nations people.

Gradually, however, Canada became one of the most multicultural, tolerant, and progressive nations. This was a gradual, cumulative change, though the Canadian Multiculturalism Act accelerated this.

Multiculturalism is officially confined only by human rights in Canada, as it should be. There are still some grievances for past actions and the government needs to accommodate First Nations more for past injustices. There are also still some discriminatory ceremonial institutions, like the Monarchy.

The social safety net has expanded, not doubt in large part because of CCF/NDP efforts.
A lot has changed, for the better. There is still a lot to do. But Canada is better than it was before. It’s more tolerant, democratic, and pluralistic.

That is why I say Happy Canada Day and am proud to live within the borders of Canada.

The Struggle for Proportional Representation

Electing Members of Parliament in Canada is pretty simple. The country is divided into 308 districts. Political parties select candidates to run in each district or independents decided to run. Elections are held in each district and the candidate with the most votes, that is the candidate who surpasses the person with the second most votes, wins and becomes the Member of Parliament for that district. This fairly simple system is the first past the post system and it causes fear-based voting.

If you watch reruns of This Hour Has Twenty-Two Minutes you’ll notice jokes with the punch line “voting NDP is throwing your vote away”. Smaller parties, like the NDP, get the shaft under our system, where winners take all. The composition of the House of Commons does not represent the national support for the NDP. In the 39th Federal Canadian Election the NDP received 17.48 % of the overall national vote while getting only 9.42 % * of the seats in the House of Commons.

The regionally popular Bloc Quebecois, however, with 10.48% of the national vote received 16.56% of the seats. ** They have more seats than the nationally more popular NDP!

Our system doesn’t even ensure regional (district) views are properly represented. Just look at the Churchill district. The Liberal candidate, Tina Keeper, with a minority 40.68% of the district vote won. There were unique circumstances, for sure. The NDP Churchill Riding Association held an election, where Niki Ashton was voted in and Bev Desjarlais voted out. Desjarlais ran as an independent and split the traditional NDP vote. But MPs have been elected with 35% of the district vote, as in Welland.

Electors fear letting the worst candidate in, so they usually vote against rather than for someone. Fear of letting the Conservatives in is why so many electors vote for the Liberals instead of the NDP.

A popular set of alternatives is Proportional Representation and according to Fair Vote Canada:

“The core principle [of Proportional Representation] is to treat all voters equally – to make every vote count. When votes are treated equally, then election results are proportional. Parties get the seats they deserve – no more, no less.”

Understandably, the NDP is pushing for Proportional Representation. NDP Member of Parliament, Catherine Bell, introduced a motion which would get a committee to look into electoral reform. The committee would consider consulting the public on the matter. The motion didn’t include any specific alternative, but it laid out necessary groundwork for future reform. The motion did not pass.

Bell hasn’t given up. She’s now using a petition to get direct citizen support for electoral reform.

As demonstrated above, our system has flaws so reform is desirable. The system of Proportional Representation I’d most like to see here in Canada is the single transferable vote, because it allows for regional considerations but fairly represent parties in the House of Commons.

*The New Democratic Party filled 29 seats in the House of Commons. There are 308 seats in total. 29 divided by 308 equals 0.0942 (to the ten thousandth precision). 0.0942 multiplied by 100 equals the percentage of seats the NDP received, 9.42%.

**The Bloc Quebecois filled 51 seats in the House of Commons. 51 divided by 308 equals 0.1656 (to the ten thousandth precision). Multiplied by 100 this equals the percent of seats of the House of Commons they filled, which is 16.56%.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Divine Induction

Note: My blog post is sandwiched between the i53 Network’s original video and You Tube Member Websnarf’s (not connected to me) response video. Websnarf’s response was included because I realized it touched on some ideas I presented in this post and is a more easy to follow response then my pedantic blog post.

Kelly Tripplehorn, through the i53 Network (which he founded), is offering a $1000 challenge to anyone who can justify inductive inference without god. Tripplehorn describes induction in the simplified, classical fashion of moving from specific cases to general rules. He proceeds to say that non-theists cannot justify induction, citing the Problem of Induction which, despite centuries of debate, lacks an uncontroversial and universally accepted solution.

Induction assumes the uniformity of nature, and saying induction is justified because it “worked in the past” (in classic pragmatic style) is begging the question.

So, to solve the problem Tripplehorn cites the bible, where god says he made the world with order (uniformity). He then offers $1000 to anyone who can solve this challenge without invoking god and goes on to make the (outlandish) suggestion that atheists should be kicked out of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences because they can’t justify induction.

To be precise, Tripplehorn says that anyone who gets their solution added into the Stanford Encylopedia of Philosophy will get the $1000. This challenge is absurd, not the least bit because the Stanford Encylopedia of Philosophy doesn’t accept ideas simply because they’re “true”. Your solution to the problem of induction could be the best, end all debate, solution there is, but until it’s discussed in academic circles and philosophy journals, it won’t be added to the Encyclopedia.

Tripplehorn should also know that the Stanford Encylopedia of Philosophy article on induction doesn’t reference his divine solution to the problem, never mind accepting it as the end all solution to the problem or the only possible way to make sense of induction. Aside from the section on Creationism, religion isn’t referenced at all in the article.

Its absence is for good reason, too. The divine solution to the problem of induction is really just an extension of the Transcendental Argument for the Existence of God, an outgrowth of Presuppositional Apologetics. Claiming god designed the universe uniformly, to explain induction, explains little and confuses the matter more.

Tripplehorn’s divine explanation adds an extra entity, a no-no for anyone who cares for the principle of parsimony. This is why academic philosophers have avoided using god; it doesn’t clarify or add to our understanding of induction and is a typical sky-hook.

A sky-hook is any explanation which confuses matters, by trying to explain something with a mysterious unobservable entity.

To give you an example (hat tip to PZ Myers), let us imagine a particle called “Regulon”. It’s an infinitesimally small, sub-quantum particle. It ensures all higher-level particles and forces behave uniformly. Any unprejudiced thinker would realize that I’ve pulled a fast one on you and added a mysterious entity to our ontology. This is similar to what Tripplehorn is doing, shifting the mystery from induction to god.

If Tripplehorn’s dystopian dream of excluding atheists from the National Academy of Sciences was actualized, the academy would lose some of its best members and scientific progress would be inhibited.

Tripplehorn, if anything, has done a real disservice. As websnarf pointed out, Tripplehorn’s challenge is contrary to the Encylopedia’s educational mission and it’s practically impossible to get a new idea into the Encylopedia. Nevertheless, I’ll try, as an ontological naturalist, to add some insight into this problem: if the universe wasn’t uniform, it wouldn’t contain beings capable of wondering why it was uniform (and hence, why induction works).

The Value of Brand Upon the Brain!

Film Experimentalists deserve our thanks whether or not their experiments turned out well. If their experiments proved successful, they’ve showed us how arbitrary the conventions of film-making are. If their experiments are unsuccessful, they have given us reason not to try a similar unorthodox experiment in the future. It is for the latter reason that Guy Maddin deserves thanks, for his “Brand Upon the Brain!” experiment.

Maddin’s film justifies the convention of films having a plot, because the alternative (one absurd non-sequitur after another) is just plain annoying. Maddin gives us reason to stay clear of flashing visual imagery at film audience, because if it doesn’t send them into sensory overload it’ll annoy the hell out of them.

But I stop short of the film critics in my congratulations. The film itself shouldn’t be praised, for the final product was terrible. I suppose the almost unanimous praise of the film by critics really demonstrates that critics are suckers for an experimental film, no matter how bad it is.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

NDP Membership

Thanks to the New Democratic Youth of Canada, I’ll soon be a member of the NDP. I support the NDP for reasons already specified and becoming a member will better help me promote NDP policies and campaigns.

Secularist Public Speech

Lori Lipman Brown is the nontheistic lobbyist for the Secular Coalition for America. In 2006, she delivered this speech.

She strikes me as an effective, reasonable, and modest public speaker and made some good points. It’s a worthwhile speech to watch.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Teaching the Bible in School

Times Columnist David Van Bieman presents his case for teaching the (Judeo-Christian) Bible in Schools. While I differ from Bieman on some points (like his “faith in our country” pun, which confuses trust with presupposed belief), I would agree with Bible studies being offered as an elective in high schools or as part of a social studies course (depending on the schedule or course structure of a given school), given that the instructors are cautious not to voice their religious views in the class.

The course should be secular, describing textual examination of the bible, and its role in literary history. I’d also suggest some comparative study be done, particularly with the Qu’ran and the Mystery Religions of the Roman Empire.

Uncontroversial facts would about what the Bible (i.e. its contents) would be taught, instead of controversial beliefs (i.e. whether its contents are true). This course would be analogous to how they teach Greek Mythology. Instructors describe and assign questions about the myths, but don’t indicate that they’re true.

If you are a US Citizen, you ought to be concerned about the First Amendment and how Bible Study in school relates to this. If you are a decent citizen anywhere, you should be concerned whether Bible study in school is consistent with political secularism. As long as it is taught in the manner I described, it is.

Strict monitoring of Bible Study and comparative religion is needed to make sure proselytizing doesn’t occur. The potential for such courses to be abused have been made evident, especially in Texas where even clergy are used to teach such courses. I say keep the clergy out, they present a conflict of interest when dealing with religiously neutral courses on the Bible. Also, train the teachers on how to instruct a Bible course neutrally.

Despite the potential for abuse, Bible courses would serve well to give students some background and insight in literary and cultural matters, since the bible has influenced Western Culture. After reading the Bible they may even begin to think more critically about their religion.

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