Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Unbearable Lightness of Being Orange

It's election season! Again! Or maybe it isn't - apparently it all really depends on which pollster or partisan footsoldier you talk to at any given moment and/or astrological alignment.

In what can only be some kind of political reaction-formation designed to exorcise the spectre of Stephane Dion, Professor Michael Ignatieff has announced that the Liberal Party is determined to overturn the parliamentary chessboard, Canadian public opinion be damned. Not that this is an altogether terrible idea - the government has proven it would sooner put the country into billions of dollars of deficit than show a little self-restraint on its tax-credit fetish, which might not be so bad if it wasn't accompanied by Stephen Harper alternately howling about a Coalition Government that (regrettably) hasn't been on anyone's radar since sometime last December and obnoxiously taking credit for an economic faux-recovery that is almost wholly due to a) the American stimulus package and b) a lull between economic meltdowns ala the 'Phoney War' of 1940.

(As for the Bloc, well, they're always up for a party.)

This effectively leaves Jack Layton and the Little Party That Could as the linchpin in the dam holding back the electoral floodwaters, which is interesting considering that in the past for reasons even more trivial than the possibility of extending EI to 70 weeks the NDP have been more than a little enthusiastic about kicking the chair out from under Harper's feet. So why does Layton suddenly look like he's actually considering resuscitating the terminal 40th Parliament rather than fall back on the NDP's typical electoral knee-jerking?

It isn't hard to speculate on why the NDP might be reluctant to go into an election at this exact moment; it is pretty common knowledge that the finicky and jealous God of the market economy gets downright wrathful when parliamentary wrangling breaks out. And, honestly, anyone with a brain knows that the last thing anyone in this country wants to do is sit through 6-8 weeks of painfully mediocre political hacks screaming at each other about whether the Liberals, Conservatives or "socialist" New Democrats (referring to the current federal NDP as socialist is an insult to any legitimate socialist) is ruining an economy the Canadian government doesn't have any real control over - especially considering that in all likelihood the electoral outcome is almost guaranteed to either give us an identical parliamentary configuration to what we have now, or worse, giving us a Conservatve majority that will be sure to delight women, gays, and poor people alike.

None of this is stopping the Liberals from threatening to blow the joint though, and when the Liberals are the ones balking at the prospect it very rarely would stop the NDP. So the question remains - what's the deal? Barring the rumour traveling through some political circles that the NDP put themselves in debt last fall and can't afford another election campaign, the far more likely reason we'll get to see Jack Layton go through rhetorical acrobatics justifying his support of Stephen Harper later this week is a little more selfish than a concern for Canadian public sensibilities; the numbers aren't working out in their favour and an election would see their parliamentary ranking bumped down from "ineffective" to "slightly more ineffective" (and slightly more broke).

Not that there's anything wrong with this, of course - for better or for worse our entire social system is built around the principle of every man for himself, and this rule goes doubly when it comes to the ugly art of politics. But what it does highlight is that the NDP most definitely do not deserve their romantic designation as "parliament's moral compass" and that when their back is to the wall and they're forced off the moral high-horse that comes with never having to touch the corrosive reins of power, they are in the end exactly like the big money-slicked parties they were initially formed to challenge. With the NDP there is no hope, no leftist alternative in Canadian politics - only more of the same. This isn't news to most people, but hopefully it is news to all the smart, dedicated and hardworking people frittering away their effort on a party that, even if it ever did achieve power, would in the end only betray them.

There is an old Nietzschean adage about fighting with monsters; pious NDP supporters might do well to remember it.

Thursday, August 20, 2009


I've been busy working on a project. It's almost started.

So in the interim, pretend I told you about this:

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Economic Crisis In A Nutshell

[Unfortunately - by God's mercy, how it pains me so to admit it! - I cannot take credit for this piece; it was crafted by a far greater wordsmith than I can ever aspire to be. - r. raleigh, 4/20]

Yesterday, the New York Times’ Robert Mackey noted the growing number of commentators who are attempting to explain the economic crisis through metaphor and analogy. Some commentators, Mackey notes, have stuck to traditional metaphorical staples—cliffs, craters, and nudity—but others have proffered scrambled explanations involving tiger-riding, tangled mixed metaphors about weapons of mass destruction, and the renovation of houses that are on fire.

Mackey concludes, “Besides a sense of urgency, what these metaphors of war and disaster reveal is a fundamental need to explain somehow what it is that banks actually do to make money these days. While it used to be that a bank’s core business could be understood by anyone able to add, subtract, multiply and divide, in recent years bankers started to place very large bets on calculations that might give pause to people with degrees in quantum physics.”

The metaphors Mackey cites fail to adequately describe the economic crisis because they are too simple, not because the economic crisis is too complex. Complexity of subject matter is no bar to metaphor. It is a challenge to which the worthy metaphor will rise and an opportunity for true metaphorical excellence.

I will achieve this excellence. Here goes:

First, imagine yourself as a passenger on an ocean-going vessel or airplane. You do not understand the inner workings of this ship or plane, nor are you permitted to leave it. The captain of whichever vessel is a distant, dehumanized figure with the unquestionable authority of God and/or National Security, and the vessel has smashed into an iceberg, or is crashing from the sky into an iceberg, as case may be. Furthermore, the ship does not respond to conventional controls and its actual operations are a matter of theory. The ship is the economy. As a passenger, you have several pressing concerns which are subsumed into a generalized feeling of dread, helplessness, and desperate urgency.

To better understand the relationship between yourself and the captain of the plane/ship, please consider yourself a low-ranking member of a pack of hunting animals, such as wolves, or perhaps coyotes. (The more “creative” among you may consider yourselves hyenas, but please limit your consideration to canine animals. Canine social dynamics are requisite to the analogy.)

Now, imagine the forest/plain/field your pack hunts for sustenance has been devastated by overhunting. You and your fellows find yourselves on the precipice of a Malthusian crisis. As some form of canine life, you have limited means of personal expression and broader understanding. You must communicate through barking and/or yipping noises, as well as scented cues and ritualized nonlethal combat.

Place your canine self-construction—as well as the rest of your pack—onto the airplane/ship. This is now a vessel manned, piloted, and populated by a pack of wild dogs or wolves. The situation appears grim. The onboard reserves of antelopes and deer are devastated beyond repopulation, and things are on fire—horrifying, engulfing plumes of orange and blue death.

The economic collapse is that fire. Unlike regular fire, this fire produces charts and graphs instead of smoke. These charts illustrate various metrics and measures describing the rate of the flames’ progress, and the extent to which you are doomed. Like smoke, this information hangs in the air, choking and claustrophobic. The charts catch in the lungs of your brain, at once the first blush and the closest associative understanding we can expect of our apparent destruction—for who can understand the fire? After all, the fire is very similar to the economic collapse, which is very difficult to understand, and you are a coyote, wolf, or hyena, on an airplane or a ship, as case may be.

Some of your packmates bark/yip on the importance of putting out the fire, some have questions as to the cause of the fire, and some are preoccupied by the imminent doom of the plane/ship crashing into whatever object, and are less focused on the fire itself. (The crash is the next Great Depression.)

Several of the fatter members of the pack were responsible for setting controlled fires on the ship, for which they were paid exorbitant sums of antelopes, which is very confusing and morally frustrating. However, apparently the ship’s day-to-day operations were powered by these fires. Emissaries of the mysterious captain insist their arsonist expertise requires their involvement in the firefighting activities, and additional antelope meat, taken from other pack members not connected with the fires. This fire-stoppage is designed to change the vessel’s course. Some wolves insist the airplane/ship should crash/sink to prevent subsequent disasters and others insist on doing nothing whatever, while several have “Gone Galt” and are busily licking themselves. Also, you have no health insurance.

That is the economic crisis, in a nutshell.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Mystery Status: Solved

Everything Harper has ever said/done now rings through with total clarity of purpose.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Politics and the English Language

In our time it is broadly true that political writing is bad writing. Where it is not true, it will generally be found that the writer is some kind of rebel, expressing his private opinions and not a "party line." Orthodoxy, of whatever color, seems to demand a lifeless, imitative style. The political dialects to be found in pamphlets, leading articles, manifestoes, White papers and the speeches of undersecretaries do, of course, vary from party to party, but they are all alike in that one almost never finds in them a fresh, vivid, homemade turn of speech. When one watches some tired hack on the platform mechanically repeating the familiar phrases -- bestial atrocities, iron heel, bloodstained tyranny, free peoples of the world, stand shoulder to shoulder -- one often has a curious feeling that one is not watching a live human being but some kind of dummy: a feeling which suddenly becomes stronger at moments when the light catches the speaker's spectacles and turns them into blank discs which seem to have no eyes behind them. And this is not altogether fanciful. A speaker who uses that kind of phraseology has gone some distance toward turning himself into a machine. The appropriate noises are coming out of his larynx, but his brain is not involved as it would be if he were choosing his words for himself. If the speech he is making is one that he is accustomed to make over and over again, he may be almost unconscious of what he is saying, as one is when one utters the responses in church. And this reduced state of consciousness, if not indispensable, is at any rate favorable to political conformity.

In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible. Things like the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan, can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the professed aims of the political parties. Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness. Defenseless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification. Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called transfer of population or rectification of frontiers. People are imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is called elimination of unreliable elements. Such phraseology is needed if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures of them. Consider for instance some comfortable English professor defending Russian totalitarianism. He cannot say outright, "I believe in killing off your opponents when you can get good results by doing so." Probably, therefore, he will say something like this:

"While freely conceding that the Soviet regime exhibits certain features which the humanitarian may be inclined to deplore, we must, I think, agree that a certain curtailment of the right to political opposition is an unavoidable concomitant of transitional periods, and that the rigors which the Russian people have been called upon to undergo have been amply justified in the sphere of concrete achievement."

The inflated style itself is a kind of euphemism. A mass of Latin words falls upon the facts like soft snow, blurring the outline and covering up all the details. The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one's real and one's declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink. In our age there is no such thing as "keeping out of politics." All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred, and schizophrenia. When the general atmosphere is bad, language must suffer. I should expect to find -- this is a guess which I have not sufficient knowledge to verify -- that the German, Russian and Italian languages have all deteriorated in the last ten or fifteen years, as a result of dictatorship.

But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.

- G. Orwell

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Scientific Polling on the Issues that MATTER

In times of economic crises and rampant North American federal elections, it is not entirely uncommon to see the various manifestations of popular media covered in all manners of charts, graphs and figures based on the most scientifically accurate data regarding the opinions of the terminally ignorant.

The ability to quantify thoughts, behaviours and pieces of the vast emotional mosaic that defines the human experience is perhaps the greatest achievement in the history of science and thought - let alone politics! - and it is an unfortunate tendency of society's prevailing biases that it is largely wasted on tracking such mundane phenomena as political approval ratings, potential election results, and modeling the variety of ways in which global markets are currently imploding.

What I have undertaken here for you, gentle reader, is a painstaking study and analysis of some of the major areas of political and economic activity that, for reasons unknown to yours truly, have been neglected by the so-called "credible" researchers. Using the skills I was taught in the process of acquiring a highly-employable Bachelor of Arts from the prestigious Memorial University of Newfoundland, I have presented my findings in a chart format that is both functional and aesthetically pleasing.

If you wish to use these findings in future research or reports, please cite the source as Richard Raleigh, MD., t.i.a. [thanks in advance]

he is a bad premier

this one is fun for the whole family

trust me on this

Unfortunately, as provincial politics has been somewhat slow lately (understandably, as it is functionally irrelevant to the government if the House is sitting or not), we turn now towards to the federal scene, which has been substantially more interesting as of late.

 don't forget he's electable, though

as for premier williams, even a broken clock is right twice a day

is this the best graph in the world? it may be.

It's almost as if you could say... a picture was worth a thousand words... ?