Saturday, 29 October 2011

John Robson – ‘Leaders give no reason to trust them’ (Ottawa Sun, October 2, 2011)

In a recent Sun editorial John Robson claims to have avoided watching the Ontario leader’s debate.   The general assertion of the editorial is that televised debates display more style than substance while failing to provide a forum for digging into the details of issues.  Of course, one could easily make the case that this is precisely the type of shallow, sound-bite, image-driven content offered to Sun readers on a daily basis. 

Robson’s editorial is a plea for more depth in public discourse.  As a way to demonstrate how substance could be added to debates he argues that politicians should be drawing from previous thinkers and authors.  By way of illustration, throughout the editorial Robson quotes from Richard Weaver’s Ideas Have Consequences.  While the book is worth reading according to Robson, the leader’s debate, by contrast, only offers, “synthetic people flapping their arms, smiling on cue, reciting talking points and telling contrived anecdotes with mechanical insincerity.”  The trouble is that this quotation perfectly describes the newspaper in which this editorial appears. 

The Sun is the most predictable read on any given day.  One knows automatically what the cover story will be and what slant the editorials will have.  This is the same newspaper which featured a cover comic of the Ontario premier as a devil and a post-election cover which tastefully and respectfully read: 'We’ve Got A Liberal Minority: Welcome to Hell’.  So, yes to populism but in reality the electorate are a bunch of idiots.  And if Robson really wants to see all which he criticizes (blustery, over-confident, surface-oriented gimmicks which lack detail, balance and careful research) he only need to look a few inches from his own writing in the Sun to find the sloppy, hysterical and mechanized work of Ezra Levant.  Yes, yes, Ezra, we know: free-enterprise great, CBC the root of all evil.  You have told us a thousand times in a thousand clumsy and frenzied ways.  In the Comment section of the Sun what is on offer is monotony, scare-tactics and stunts as content.  Hey, just like the debates.  I wonder if Robson reads Levant. 

Early in the article Robson attempts to maintain his salt-of-the-earth non-egghead credentials.  Following a recommendation of a Weaver’s book he writes, “I’m not trying to seem snobbish or overeducated here.”  Heaven forbid that any signs of a formal education, much less the recommendation of a book (gasp!), should be displayed in the Sun pages.   Robson is calling for a more serious debate on issues while at the same time suggesting there is something unseemly or elitist about having an informed opinion.  Yes, we should be quoting from books – but not too extensively.   

Of course the Sun is all about what Robson purports to be disgusted by.  The bottom line is that the newspaper uses the same easy-answers faux-populism that is witnessed in televised leadership debates.  Kind of makes you wonder why Robson writes for them.  Also makes you wonder why he hangs out with folks like Ezra.  Never mind the politicians for a moment, what reasons do we have to trust the Sun?

In the spirit of Robson’s call for the use of more quotations I offer up a pair:

“It ought to be possible to have convictions but to be open-minded at the same time; possible not to sound as if one had an easy answer to all political problems.” – Stuart Sim (Empires of Belief)

“The secret, then, is that we must alter our civilization from one of answers to one which feels satisfaction, not anxiety, when doubt is established.” – John Ralston Saul (Voltaire’s Bastards)

Sunday, 16 October 2011

David Warren – ‘Money talks’ (Ottawa Citizen, October 5, 2011)

David Warren recommends that rather than complaining about banks, Occupy Wall Street demonstrators should purchase bank shares so they too can reap dividends.   This would allow the demonstrators to donate their newly acquired wealth to causes they see as having merit.   What Warren is offering is sage ‘let them eat cake’ advice.  He fails to consider that ‘Money talks’ is precisely the problem. 

Of course Mr. Warren’s whole premise is that the demonstrators are both bullies and wealthy (and by extension spoiled and arrogant) students.  I’m not sure which scientific study he draws his information from.  In my experience the mainstream media is expert at missing the all-ages aspect of such demonstrations – easier to film the flashy and potentially violent than the toddlers and grandparents (both age groups I’ve seen at every post-Seattle demonstration I’ve attended).  Why photograph an elderly person with a clever placard when there might be a broken McDonald’s window in the offing.  Also, contrary to Warren’s assertion that protestors are one-trick ponies, I don’t know a single person who regularly participates in such events who doesn’t engage in other forms of political activism.  Perhaps I’m very lucky and have a group of sophisticated friends.

With the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations one senses there is something larger happening than Warren’s dismissive comments suggest.  For instance, my parents (mother being in her mid-70s, father in early his 80s) are welcoming the recent demonstrations with comments such as ‘it’s about time’.  Now I have to say my parents, rural Canadians who worked hard their entire lives (and still work hard) are not exactly rabble rousers.  In fact, until this year I would have argued they are the exact opposite of rabble rousers. What does it mean when they surprise me by supporting the demonstrations – and this only a few moths after voting NDP for the first time in their lives!  Perhaps they are on to something.  Of course even Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney takes an understanding view of the recent demonstrations – stating in an interview that the protestors have some valid points and legitimate concerns. 

The day before the Ottawa version of Occupy Wall Street I spoke with two people who planned to attend the demonstration.  One is a twenty-something cook and the other a thirty-something business owner.  Clearly neither of these folks fit into Warren’s wealthy student stereotype.  Of course, even if the movement was made up entirely of students I would say: so what?   Let the youth be smug and not altogether clear on what they want or how to get it.  And while I’m sure there are many affluent students out there, most of the ones I know are mired in debt and don’t have any job assurances when they finish school.    

Warren makes additional missteps when he criticizes the movement for not possessing a clear agenda.  As if this could be possible after a mere few weeks with any given body of loosely affiliated people.  What really puts Warren’s piece beyond the beyond is when he champions the mature Tea Party movement in comparison to Occupy Wall Street.  Warren writes, “The Tea Party types have not taken to the streets, and their organizers have consistently struggled to maintain civility: to ostracize any member whose behavior or loose talk detracts from the dignity of the movement.” 

Dignity?   Clearly this is not true – one only has to look at persistent Tea Party rhetoric which claims that President Obama is not American and that he shares traits with Hitler and Stalin.  Even when Tea Party members do confess to ‘going too far’ with rhetoric, the line is that it was all done in the honorable name of spreading a vital message.  At ‘Occupy Ottawa’ I saw no such outlandish hyperbole.  There were none of Warren’s ‘bullies’.  Actually the whole affair was pretty sedate.  I did see a guy dressed as Robin Hood.                 

Sunday, 2 October 2011


The news is there for all to see:  Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty is the “Debt Devil”.  In case readers didn’t believe it, there is an accompanying cover-cartoon depicting a red-coloured McGuinty with horns and a dollar-sign emblazoned pitchfork.  In the article not-so-amusingly titled ‘Dalton’s Debt’, Christiana Blizzard uses such words as ‘whopping’, ‘skyrocketing’ and ‘soaring’ to describe Liberal (over)spending.   Of course the article studiously avoids the detailed records of past Conservative provincial governments (easy to boast about Mike Harris – less easy to account for Ernie Eves and Walkerton) and the current Harper administration. 

It is not that the article is filled with lies so much that it is economical – extremely economical – with the truth.    

My favorite paragraph in Blizzard’s piece reads: “Education sector spending is projected to rise to $21.4 billion in 2010-11, a $700 million increase over the previous year.  It’s projected to rise to $22.3 billion in 2011-12, and to $23 billion in 2013-13, an 11.5% increase since 2009-10.”   Of course the assumption is this is a bad thing which is a highly questionable premise to begin with.  For instance, would it be bad if the numbers were doubled?  I’m not sure. 

But wait, on the very page of the Ottawa Sun, Conservative Leader Tim Hudak (you know, the guy most Sun writers seem to thing is going to save us from the Dalton economic disaster in the upcoming election)* is quoted as saying: “Looking at my own school days, I know a well-rounded education includes extracurricular activities.  We’ll increase the education budget by $2 billion annually.” 

Needless to say this quotation passes without comment in the Blizzard article.  One has to assume the difference here is that the benevolent Conservatives won’t, as with the sinister Liberals, be giving the money to bloated teacher’s unions but rather directly to sports-deprived children.

As I said, not exactly deceptions – more a case of budgeted truths.      

*  It is interesting to note that despite the clear Conservative favoritism, the Sun doesn’t think any of the Ontario leaders or parties are fiscally conservative enough to merit the paper’s overall endorsement.