Must-reads: John Robson on superbugs; Colby Cosh on the wardrobe malfunction; Dan Gardner on crime statistics.
Stéphane Dion patrols the barbecue beat while Stephen Harper fixes his steely glare on the last remaining Bloc Québécois strongholds.
Don Martin returns to the pages of the Calgary Herald, after what we hope was a pleasant vacation, and instantly commits journalistic heresy: “conventional wisdom suggests that byelections just don’t matter.” (Summon the men in white coats! The public must not be allowed to know!) But since Stéphane Dion’s attempts to win the September 8 contests in Guelph, Saint Lambert and Westmount-Ville Marie will be combined with his summertime sales pitch on his Green Shift, Martin argues, the campaign—if not the results—should certainly be instructive. Early indications, he reports from eastern Ontario, are not altogether positive. He “exceeded personal-performance expectations,” Martin believes, albeit in front of friendly crowds, but the carbon tax is proving a difficult sell for local candidates
Eastern Ontario’s all well and good, but the Montreal Gazette‘s Josée Legault warns Dion that he’ll need “a more open policy for Quebec, not just a green one, if he wants to make any headway here.” Just what an “open policy” is isn’t quite clear, but we quite agree with Legault that if Marc Garneau somehow manages to lose Westmount, “new criticisms of Dion’s leadership” would appear… right after monkeys flew out of his butt. Westmount is not Outremont, and it’s just not going to happen. Even at the Adscam-sponsored nadir of Liberal fortunes, Lucienne Robillard still pulled in more than two-and-a-half times the votes of her nearest (Conservative) competitor.
The key to a Conservative majority lies in one of the 905 (suburban Toronto) or 418 (Quebec City and its environs) area codes, L. Ian MacDonald opines in the National Post—and far more likely the latter. “The area … has a history of voting massively one way or another,” he notes, and Harper should easily be able to build on past gains in the region based on his record in office: “address[ing] the fiscal imbalance with the provinces,” giving Quebec a seat at UNESCO, respecting provincial spending powers and, of course, the almighty nation resolution—which, “for Quebecers, … represents not only recognition ‘within a united Canada,’ but a turning of the page.”
Obama, the United States, and the world
“It ought to be axiomatic, but is not, that the world does not need more Canada,” says The Globe and Mail‘s Jeffrey Simpson (who seems to be taking writing classes from James Travers). What Canada needs is “to be more aware of the world, so as to adjust domestic policies to compete in it,” and political leaders who “can interpret and explain the world at home.” Indeed, he says, in this day and age all nations, and especially the United States, must appreciate “the interconnectedness of the world” as much as “the localisms of politics”—which is what Barack Obama’s current international tour symbolizes, he believes.
The real story of Obama’s Middle East visit was his reported pledge not to “waste a minute” as President in tackling the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, Richard Gwyn argues in the Toronto Star. Such efforts have traditionally been the stuff of last-minute legacy-building, he notes, after mid-term elections have been contested and the president in question need no longer worry about the pro-Israel lobby. “A serious, good faith attempt by an American president to pull off an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal wouldn’t just change the geopolitical map in Israel and in Palestine,” Gwyn concludes. “It could change the political map throughout the entire Middle East.”
Considering how much John McCain had to do with the Iraq troop surge, the Toronto Sun‘s Peter Worthington says you might very reasonably expect him to be benefiting politically from its success. But “a winning war is not as newsworthy as a losing war,” he argues, and the number of embedded journalists in Iraq “has plunged by 74% in the past nine months—from 219 in September 2007 to 58 in June 2008.” And with Iraq less in their faces every day, he suggests, Americans are free to move on to being outraged about the economy and “the horrendous price of gasoline.” Advantage: Barack Obama.
The Post‘s Colby Cosh applauds a U.S. appeals court’s decision to overturn a $550,000 fine levied against CBS in the matter of Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” at the 2004 Super Bowl. Until then, he notes—and hopefully now again—there was “a fairly satisfactory state of equilibrium” between the FCC and the major networks: deliberately broadcast George Carlin’s “Seven Dirty Words” and you could expect trouble; but accidentally, unforeseeably and briefly violate broadcasting norms and you’d be fine. The overreaction “created a state of terror and uncertainty in which, to take an example from late 2004, affiliates could no longer be sure whether it was safe to run Saving Private Ryan in prime time on Veteran’s Day,” Cosh notes. Now, thankfully, sanity can return.
The Ottawa Citizen‘s Dan Gardner explains his three golden rules of crime statistics, which are:
- Politicians always chalk up positive developments to their policies—as Ottawa Mayor Larry O’Brien did this week, even though crime in the nation’s capital declined less than the national average—but invariably blame negative developments on “social trends that are far beyond the very limited control of mayors, police chiefs and social service agencies.”
- If crime is going up, politicians consider statistics “a perfectly accurate reflection of the frightening reality.” If crime is going down, politicians impugn the entire field of study.
- Major outbursts of violence ramp up discussion of negative statistics, but instantly terminate discussion of positive statistics.
The only thing we’d add is that if you need to criticize Claire Hoy (as Gardner does) to make a point, then maybe the problem’s not as bad as you think it is.
John Robson, also writing in the Citizen, is sick of ignorant, selfish people who demand antibiotics for non-biotic illnesses, the doctors who indulge them, and genuinely sick people who don’t follow the directions their doctors and pharmacists helpfully provide—all of which, of course, contributes to antibiotic resistance. “I don’t want to die of some wretched superbug because people were too lazy or insolent to follow simple directions on a bottle, or had a misplaced sense of entitlement that the universe owed them a cure for the common cold,” he writes. We couldn’t agree more.
The post-Cold War spread of liberal democracy hasn’t gone quite according to plan, Marcus Gee notes in the Globe, especially in China and Russia. “The leaders of these regimes are not just venal power-mongers clinging to office against the popular will,” he argues, citing Robert Kagan. “They believe in autocracy,” and many of their citizens are clearly willing to sacrifice true freedom for the relative order and prosperity of “capitalist autocracy (or market Leninism, if you like).” But Gee suggests it’s simply a matter of time before the Chinese and Russian economies turn downwards and the “co-opted and quiescent” middle class demands change. “In time,” he concludes, “they will get it.”