Monday, February 28, 2022

The alphabetical filing of the nobiliary particle

In a time when the world is grappling with the repercussions of a war Ukraine, a global pandemic and record inflation, I am faced with a big decision: should I file Daphne du Maurier's books under D or M?

I'm not the first to ask the question, but there are surprisingly few definitive answers. Some people seem to have strong feelings about it, but there is still a lot of inconsistency and randomness. Directions such as "go with the owner's own preferences" or "use whichever system makes the most sense to you" are less than helpful.

The few online encyclopedia entries which actually use a "LastName, FirstName" system (e.g. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, seem to prefer "du Maurier" (file under D), even though that may not be my own preference. The kicker for me, I guess, is that Toronto Public Library files her under D ("du Maurier, Daphne"), with DUM in the Dewey Decimal System reference, and I have nothing but faith in Toronto Public Library.

By the same token, John le Carré goes under L, Louis de Bernières under D. But, for some reason, Simone de Beauvoir goes under B, Miguel de Cervantes goes under C, and Carl von Clauswitz also under C, so even the Toronto Public Library is not totally consistent!

And, for what it's worth, in case you were not sure, Gabriel García Márquez definitely goes under G (García and Márquez are both appellidos in the Spanish fashion), and Mario Vargas Llosa under V.

P.S. The "de", "du" and "le" are technically know as "nobiliary particles" in grammar.

Sunday, February 27, 2022

What Americans think about Putin's invasion of Ukraine

Sometimes, it's just so hard to understand Americans. They live just the other side of the Canadian border, but sometimes they may as well be on a different planet for all the sense they make.

A recent poll by the Harvard Center for American Political Studies/Harris concluded that 62% if Americans (85% of Republicans and an astounding 38% of Democrats) believe that Putin would not be invading Ukraine if Donald Trump had been president. Also, 59% believe that Putin made a move on Ukraine specifically because he perceives President Biden to be weak.


America, IT'S NOT ALL ABOUT YOU. Really. I know that may be hard for you to believe, but there are other things going on in the world that are out of your control, and do not depend on you and your greenbacks. Sorry to break it to you.

Saturday, February 26, 2022

The correct pronunciation and spelling of Kyiv

If you have been confused by the pronunciation and spelling of Kyiv during media coverage of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, you're not alone.

If you thought it was pronounced kee-EV or key-EV, and spelled Kiev, that's because it was for many years. But this is the Russian spelling and pronunciation (Ukraine was of course a Soviet Russian possession for most of the 20th century). Ukrainians, however, spell it Kyiv (or Київ in Cyrillic, but note that Ukrainian Cyrillic is slightly different from Russian Cyrillic!), and pronounce it more like KEE-ev, or KEY-uv (there are several examples of native pronunciation on Forvo). News-readers are being told that the pronunciation should be KEE-eev, but a one-syllable KEEV is probably fine, just avoid the Russian key-EV.

So, this is not quite the same as insisting that Paris always be pronounced par-EE in English - some famous places have acquired, rightly or wrongly -  an English pronunciation over time. Think of it more as a politically-correct pronunciation.

Friday, February 25, 2022

Just how Russian is the Donbas region of Ukraine?

The other thing I have been wondering recently, in the context of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, is just HOW Russian the eastern Donbas region of Ukraine actually is. And, of course, like everything else, it's complicated.

A couple of maps from Wikipedia help. The first shows the towns, villages and districts of Ukraine with a majority of Ukrainian speakers (blue) and those with a majority of Russian speakers (red):

Donbas, including the two "separatist" regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, is the red stain in the east of the country (redder than any other region except the Crimean peninsula in the south).
Another graphic shows the percentage of native Russian speakers in the various oblasts of Ukraine:

So, 74.9% of Donetsk and 68.8% of Luhansk speak Russian as their first language. This is not, however, the same as the percentages of people claiming Russian ethnicity, which is only 39% in Luhansk and 38.2% in Donestsk (58% and 56.9% respectively claim to be of Ukrainian ethnicity). So, a good proportion of ethnic Ukrainians in the region actually claim Russian as their native language, which raises the question of exactly what "ethnicity" actually is... 

And neither does any of this answer the question of how many residents of the region would want - given a choice that they will almost certainly never get - to be part of Russia. Putin, of course, assumes that the two separatist regions would become Russian at the drop of a hat, but that is by no means clear to me. One survey concluded that around 40% (i.e. a minority) of Donbas region residents have what the survey calls a "Soviet identity". But if there was a referendum tomorrow (ha!), would the people of the area actually vote to secede from Ukraine?

And, for the record, the Donetsk People's Republic and the Luhansk People's Republic, which self-declared their independence from Ukraine after the Russian invasion of Crimea in 2014, are officially recognized by all of one member of the United Nations (er, Russia), although assorted Russian pawns and  toadies. like Venezuela, Syria, Nicaragua and Belarus, have "expressed their support". The Russian-backed separatists actually only control about a third of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. Ukraine itself regards both breakaway "governments" as terrorist organizations, and refers to the regions as "temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine".  That said, many Ukrainians would gladly cut the Donbas region loose, as it doesn't fit with their image of what Ukraine should be (i.e. European).

Thursday, February 24, 2022

Why would Russia want to seize Chernobyl?

If, like me, you were confused as to why Russia would want to occupy the decommissioned Chernobyl nuclear plant on their very first day of invading Ukraine.

Well, it seems that Russia probably has no nefarious plans to throw radioactive waste at Ukrainians, or anything of that nature. It turns out that Chernobyl is just ten miles from the Belarus border (think of Belarus as being just part of Russia, for all intents and purposes), and just 80 miles in a straight line from the Ukrainian capital Kyiv. So, Chernobyl is a strategically-positioned location, especially as there is not even the barrier of the River Dnieper when Kyiv is approached from the north.

So, there you have it: location, location, location. Oh, and nuclear waste. The Russians really don't want disaffected Ukrainians stirring up all that contaminated soil and scattering it to the four winds (including ones that blow towards Russia). Although I suppose that that is still a rather grim possibility - a couple of well-placed missiles could do Russia (and Ukraine, and much of the world, for that matter) a lot of very long-term damage. Doesn't really bear thinking about, does it?

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Trump's bizzarro pro-Putin adulation

It seems like Donald Trump is still singing the praises of Vladimir Putin despite - nay, especially because of - his invasion of Ukraine.

Calling it "genius and "wonderful", Trump treated an ultra-conservative radio talk show to an extended segment of pro-Putin pro-invasion plaudits that I would have thought even an ultra-conservative radio talk show would have found to be in bad taste.

How this is supposed to help his re-election prospects, I'm not really sure.

Kaliningrad Oblast no more part of Russia than Ukraine

While looking at maps of Eastern Europe, in an attempt to better understand the whole Russia-Ukraine conflict, I noticed a piece of Russia that seem to be completely separate from the rest of the country. 

Kaliningrad Oblast is a chunk of Russia trapped between Poland and Lithuania and the Baltic Sea, over 500 km from the nearest part of Russia proper. (An Oblast, incidentally, is just a "federal subject" of Russia with its own local government, similar to a state or county in other countries.)

Kaliningrad Oblast is an exclave, a portion of a state geographically separated from the main state by surrounding alien territories, or technically a semi-exclave because one side of it is international waters or sea. Historically, it was once part of East Prussia, and it's main city Kaliningrad was once known in German as Königsberg (Immanuel Kant and ETA Hoffman, among others, hailed from Prussian Königsberg). Ownership of the region bounced between Prussia, Germany and Russia over many centuries, before finally being annexed and settled by Soviet Russia in the aftermath of the Second World War.

It seems to me that Germany (or Lithuania ot Poland) have a better claim to Kaliningrad Oblast than Russia does to Ukraine, whatever Vladimir Putin might think.

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Right to left, left to right AND upside down

 This is so cool ...

... says the geek.

Why does Putin bother to construct a narrative around his invasion

It's interesting, isn't it, that Vladimir Putin goes to the effort of constructing a whole more-or-less-convincing narrative around his invasion of Ukraine.

First, he spends years financing and arming the two "separatist" regions of Ukraine, Donetsk and Luhansk (aka Lugansk), in the industrial and Russian-dominated Donbas region in the east of the country. Then, yesterday, he officially recognizes them as "independent". And then he sends in "peace-keeping" troops. Et voilà! Abracadabra! Russia is in Ukraine, but it's not an invasion. He has the whole Orwellian doublespeak/doublethink thing down pat, as he talks of Ukraine being a US colony led by a puppet regime, and Ukraine's independence being a historical accident.

Of course, everyone and their dog (including, critically, the UN) can see perfectly clearly that it is an invasion of a sovereign state by a power-hungry megalomaniac, desperate to make a lasting name for himself and to resurrect the glories of the Soviet Union.

But the fact that he bothered to go through the motions of trying to make it seem legitimate is, I think, fascinating. Putin could turn out to be almost as interesting a psychological study as Donald Trump.

Sunday, February 20, 2022

Winter Olympics medals tables - take your pick

I've pointed out before the inconsistency in how Olympic medals tables are shown.

The same applies with the Winter Olympics just finished. The Canadian media (and, funnily enough, many American news outlets) tends to use a metric of total medals won, which shows Canada (which has a tendency to win lots of bronze medals) in the best possible light. European media usually lists countries by golds won (as does the official website), in which Canada shows quite poorly, but the USA Netherlands, etc, come out rather well. 

Neither method is definitive, and I have always argued that the different medals would be weighted, say three points for a gold, two for a silver, and one for a bronze (or I have also seen 4, 2 and 1, or 6, 3 and 2, used).

In the 2022 Winter Olympics, Canada places a creditable fourth in total medals after Norway, ROC (not Russia, honest) and Germany (and above the USA!). In golds, though, we only show as 11th, after Norway,  Germany, China, and all sorts of other countries (including the USA!). 

My own calculation of a weighted list (using 3 for gold, 2 for silver and 1 for bronze) ends with Canada in 5th place after Norway, Germany, ROC and USA (suggesting, to me anyway, that the total medals metric is probably a better indication of overall performance than golds).

Of course, for Norway, it really doesn't matter!

The "Freedom Convoy" has achieved a lot - and all of it bad

As the Ottawa "Freedom Convoy" grinds to a rather ignominious halt, people are as divided about what it has actually achieved as they have been throughout the whole sordid affair.

It did not being down the government, nor did it result in any changes to the vaccine mandate rules (which were in the process of changing anyway). However, there are those who think that the protest/occupation/siege/whatever-you-want-to-call-it did actually achieve something rather than nothing. 

One (American) professor opines that it "made a mockery of governing elites" (the wording of that gives you a good idea of where he is coming from), in that it "occupied a capital city of a G7 country". I'm not sure how that counts as an achievement. Canada, as a G7 country, could have taken a heavy-handed approach and squelched the whole thing in short order. But people would have been hurt, and Canada, as a NICE G7 country, chose to allow the protesters to demonstrate their fervour (however wrong-headed and illegality might have been). That is not necessarily weakness.

Furthermore, our American prof argues, it precipitated the resignation of the centrist Conservative leader, and will almost certainly lead to a much more radical right leader to come, probably a "Trumpette" right-wing populist. Erin O'Toole was probably on his way out anyway, but again, how is this a good thing? It is by no means clear that the rank-and-file Conservative voter in Canada is in fact more radicalized and extreme than it used to be, and it is by no means clear that a hard-right leader can either get elected or hold the party together.

Further furthermore, he argues, the protest has "eroded the evidence-based response to the pandemic", making high vaccination even more difficult to achieve and reducing the influence of scientists and medical experts. For one thing, that ship has already sailed - Canada already has a very high vaccination rate, and most people are right behind our medical authorities - but how is eroding this supposed to be progress? 

Only a very skewed and partisan viewpoint can find anything positive in anything the good professor has to say about the Ottawa occupation. If this is the best that the protest can be said to have achieved, then it has been an abject failure indeed.

What it has done is polarized an already- divided population still more, hardened positions, and shortened tempers. It has made the vast majority of the population extremely wary and suspicious of truckers in general (which is unfortunate), and certainly of anyone wearing a Canadian flag. It has set a damaging precedent, and emboldened far right zealots. It has given a black eye to Canada's international reputation and image. It has made overseas (especially American) traders much more wary about doing business with Canada, and will probably have a lasting adverse effect on our balance of payments. It has damaged our tourism potential. It has cost the city, the province and the country millions of dollars. I could go on, but you get the picture.

So, to say that the "Freedom Convoy" - and I continue to use quote marks advisedly - has achieved little or nothing would be far from the truth. It has achieved quite a lot, and all of it bad.

Saturday, February 19, 2022

In praise of ... sheep

Here's a fun article in praise of the humble and much-maligned sheep. Apparently, they are not as daft as we are taught to think, and indeed perform quite well on memory and intelligence tests.

I longed to find documentary (or at least video) evidence of those Marsden sheep rolling across cattle grids, but failed miserably, so I am not sure whether this is a spurious anecdote or not. However, I did find plenty of evidence of sheep crossing cattle grids just by stepping between the bars, no problem at all (e.g. here and here).

There again, there is also video of a cow crossing a cattle grid in the same way, so are we to re-consider the intellectual prowess of cattle?

Friday, February 18, 2022

Elon Musk's latest OTT Twitter bomb

If there was ever any doubt as to whether Elon Musk is a loose cannon and a generally strange guy, his latest exploit should put that to rest. Comparing Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to Adolf Hitler is just par for the course for the Tesla boss, and was only the latest of several pro-"Freedom Convoy" tweets. He did take the tweet down about 12 hours after posting it, but I guess he must have found it pretty funny. His Twitter impulse control is on a similar level to a certain ex-President.

A case for boycotting Tesla? It's not like Tesla is the only game in town these days, after all. Certainly, the guy needs taking down a peg or two.

Irony abounds in Ottawa

Ah, the delicious irony! Today's parliamentary debate on the Liberals' Emergency Act has been cancelled due to ... police actions in Ottawa to remove the "Freedom Convoy" protesters, the very reason the Emergencies Act was being introduced in the first place!


Thursday, February 17, 2022

Eileen Gu just wants to inspire Chinese girls ... and make pots of money

18-year old Eileen Gu is a cute little thing and a pretty good skier, but she made many Americans very cross when she took her Olympic medal-winning potential to China just before the Beijing Winter Olympics.

With a Chinese mother and an American father, she was in a position to choose who she wanted to represent, despite having lived and trained in America her whole life, and not actually having Chinese citizenship, which is technically an Olympic requirement. But Americans just couldn't believe that she would "betray" her country in this way.

Until it came out that little Ms. Gu has made C$40 million in Chinese trade endorsements and sponsorship deals over the last year, and will probably make the same again this year if she does half as well as expected.

Suddenly, her claims that she just wants "to inspire young girls in China" start to ring a little hollow.

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Why Canada has done so much better than the US in COVID terms

The next time somebody tries to persuade you that an American-style profit-driven healthcare system is better than Canada's universal-access publicly-funded system - and some people do genuinely believe that - just direct them towards this article: Why is Canada's COVID death rate so much lower than US?

The US has nearly 9 times the population of Canada, so comparisons are not always obvious or easy. In many ways, the two countries are quite comparable, in terms of income disparities, territorial divides and co-morbidities like obesity and hypertension, for example. But, per capita (or per million), America's daily cases are consistently more than double those of Canada, the ICU rate is over three times higher, and the death rate is a staggering twenty-five times more. And this, remember, is per capita, i.e. taking out the discrepancy in population size.

So, what is going on here. Well, Canada's COVID vaccination rates are much better (notwithstanding the truckers' protests), with around 80% of the whole population now fully vaccinated, compared to about 65% in the USA, with another 5% partially vaccinated (12% in the USA). Canada's vaccine mandates have been stricter and have lasted longer, and Canadians are generally speaking more likely to adhere to public policies (again, "Freedom Convoy" notwithstanding). And bear in kind that, according to recent CDC figures, the unvaccinated are 14 times more likely to die than someone with two doses of the vaccine, and a whopping 68 times more likely to die than a triple-vaccinated person.

And then, of course, Canada has a universal health insurance system that allows anyone and everyone to receive hospital treatment regardless of income or background or location, and the Canadian healthcare system has typically intervened earlier and more comprehensively in acute cases than in America. 

So, there you have it, from the horse's (BBC's) mouth.

The Olympics descends into farce, yet again

I have been away for most of the Winter Olympics so far, so I have not been following events in any detail. Actually, I have been rather half-heatedly boycotting the Games because, well, China. But from the few snippets I have read or seen, it has apparently not been a particularly edifying spectacle.

Complaints of biased officials, complaints about the snow and the cold weather (!), complaints about the bureaucracy and red tape, none of it good. But you had to know that doping would be an issue at some point, and you had to know that it would probably involve Russia (which shouldn't even be computing at the Games anyway, after multiple drug offences over many years, but the IOC and CAS seems to have managed to square that with their collective consciences - how does allowing them to compete under the moniker "Russian Olympic Committee" instead of "Russia" constitute even so much as a slap on the wrist?).

The main problem seems to concern 15-year old figure skating prodigy Kamila Valieva. It seems she tested positive for a banned angina drug in December 25th 2021 (Merry Christmas!), but this was not publicly revealed until February 8th 2022, AFTER she had already competed (and wowed everyone).in the team event). Er, why? Did no-one check? She is saying that there must have been a mix-up with her grandfather, who has a heart complaint. Er, why? Was he being tested for the Olympics too?

I didn't quite understand it, but I THINK I read that there's a rule which says that, as a fifteen-year old, Valieva is too young to understand about doping, and so cannot be held to account. Er, why? It seems reasonably straightforward, and she is positively surrounded by handlers, trainers, physiotherapists and fellow competitors. Surely someone could have explained it to her? She was already taking at least two barely legal oxygen-boosting performance enhancers, so I don't really think we can consider her an innocent little lamb, despite Russian attempts to portray her as such.

Nobody from the Russian Olympic Committee, the Russian Anti-Doping Agency, the World Anti-Doping Agency, the International Olympic Committee, the Court of Arbitration for Sport, or any other august body, seems able or willing to explain the situation any better than this confusing (and totally unacceptable) summary.

Worse, to muddy the waters still further, the CAS and IOC is saying that Valieva can go ahead and compete in the singles competition this week, even with the total unresolved doping issues hanging over her (well, they want to see those quadruple jumps, don't they, and a bit of controversy spices up the TV ratings still further, after all). 

The whole thing seems totally ridiculous and inexcusable to me. The Olympics has descended into farce once again. If the IOC is looking to repair its severely tarnished reputation, this is not the way to go about it. But then, they seem to be surviving quite nicely thank you without having to repair their reputation, mainly because people like sports and there is no real alternative. Sigh...


Turns out, it wasn't really an issue. Ms. Valieva fell multiple times during her medal routine and ended up placing fourth and out of the medals.

She was of course distraught, as only a fifteen-year old can be, and you have to feel sorry for the kid, to some extent anyway. A lot of the intense pressure she was under was of her own making, but a lot of it was down to her team and the whole Russian medal industry, and she should not have been caught up in this in the first place. And to think she'll probably spend the rest of her life in a Siberian gulag...

Sunday, February 06, 2022

Following Britain and Denmark's lead is a crap-shoot

It's finny listening to interviews with the "Freedom Convoy" crowd in Ottawa, and like-minded protesters in other cities. Aside from their ill-considered and rather naive notions of what constitutes "freedom" in a modern democracy, at some point they will usually say something along the lines of, "Look at Britain! Look at Denmark! They have abandoned all COVID restrictions. We should too!" (Some of them were also claiming, quite erroneously, that France and Germany were dropping all restrictions too, but then truthfulness and accuracy has never been a mainstay of this movement.)

Well, for one thing, this is cherry-picking examples. One could just as easily say, "Look at China! They have almost zero cases. We should do what they are doing!" But hardly anyone is saying that, because it is an extreme position, and it has clear draw-backs.

Make no mistake, the British and Danish examples are also extreme positions. They are unproven experiments, which are risking the health, and even the lives, of the  population. And these are experiments driven by a political, not scientific, agenda. Nobody really knows how they will turn out (although some in respected medical circles are calling it a recipe for a "variant factory"). Maybe they will be right. But Boris Johnson and his crowd have taken other extreme (not scientifically condoned) positions in the past. A few of them have paid off (extending the delay between vaccination doses comes to mind), but most have not, and Britain's handling of the pandemic in general terms has been roundly criticized

Denmark too tried to lift all restrictions earlier in the pandemic, before having to rethink the move in the face of huge increases in caes and hospitalizations, and its current opening up plan is happening during another record surge in cases, and is far from uncontested. It is being hit hard by the even more contagious BA.2 Omicron sub-variant. Denmark does at least have a more vaccinated population, on a par with Canada's and substantially better than Britain's

So, circumspect Canada should follow their lead and "let it rip"? However, patriotic the protesters feel they are being, that is just not the Canadian way, and the vast majority of the populace realize that. Let's keep following the science and our scientific advisors. Sure they have made some missteps too along the way, but, generally speaking, they have served us well and brought us through in better shape than many other countries (including Britain). And Justin Trudeau has no interest in becoming a dictator and taking away all your precious rights (in exceptional circumstances, some rights need to be sacrificed for the common good).

Keep taking the medicine, hold the tiller steady, follow the science, and all those other hackneyed phrases. Don't try and be flashy, don't be extreme, don't be an outlier or an early adopter. It's the prudent way, it's the Canadian way. If you prefer, it's even the patriotic way.

Saturday, February 05, 2022

Truckers' protest has co-opted the Canadian flag

I had cause today to stray uncomfortably close to the vaccine mandate protest in downtown Toronto. I was picking up some vegan sushi from Tenon to take to my daughter - I wonder how many of the protestors were snacking on vegan sushi, I'm guessing not that many.

Even on the periphery, it was loud and vaguely threatening, mainly horns blowing at random and shouts - just a bunch of angry guys letting off steam really, and taking the opportunity to break a law or two. Fair enough, I guess, however much I may disagree with them.

What struck me most, though, was that pretty much every last one of them was draped in the Canadian flag, and many were brandishing placards and vehicles emblazoned  with snippets from the Canadian national anthem.

So, these were the "passionate, patriotic and peaceful Canadians" of Conservative interim leader Candice Bergen? Well, I guess they must be patriotic if they are wearing the Canadian flag, right? As a Globe and Mail letter-writer points out, "If I wrap a Canadian flag around myself in the name of freedom, I can get away with a lot of things".

It seems to me that the Canadian flag has been co-opted (hi-jacked?) by the hard right, in much the same way as the Union Jack was co-opted by the neo-Nazi National Front in Britain some decades ago. For many years, no self-respecting Brit would dare to flaunt the flag for fear of being associated with the more unsavoury elements of the ultra-right wing (maybe the Queen could get away with it). We have almost reached that here in Canada since this whole trucker protest has sprung up. (This is not to mention the very word "freedom" being co-opted as well.)

I imagine they do it because they see it as  lending them legitimacy. Maybe they actually think they are being patriotic, and that they are representing "Canadian values" (even though what they are exhibiting actually seems much more American to me, and a long way from the polite, law-abiding, cooperative Canadian spirit that I think of). But I now find myself subconsciously suspicious of anyone I see wearing a maple leaf. Which is a shame, especially given that this whole protest has been so, well, un-Canadian.

It has also coloured my impression of truck drivers in general in a very negative way (and I am sure I am not alone in that). Driving around town today, I found myself looking askance at every truck I passed, and wondering, "Are they a GOOD truck driver or a BAD truck driver?" Which is ridiculous, given that the protestors represent a tiny percentage of total truck drivers, nearly 90% of whom are fully vaccinated and going about their normal business delivering goods to stores and factories, both here and in the US. But it's hard to shake that feeling, so acrimonious and divisive has this protest become.

Oh, Canada!

Canadian Conservatives have got nothing on US Republicans

I know we sometimes think, here in Canada, that the Canadian Conservative Party is, more and more, modelling itself in the US Republican Party. But, in terms of chutzpah, it still has a long way to go to keep up with a Republican Party that is teetering on the brink of jumping the shark.

The latest is a resolution passed by the Republican National Committee which censures two Republican Representatives - Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger - for having the temerity to take part in the House of Representatives' investigation of the January 6th Capitol attack.

But the wording of the resolution, which passed easily on a voice vote, was even more jaw-dropping, as it accused the Representatives of "participating in a Democrat-led persecution of ordinary citizens engaged in legitimate political discourse". "Persecution"? "Legitimate political discourse"? Wow!

Come on you Canadian Conservatives, keep up! Those GOP guys are really showing you up for lily-livered pushovers.

Thursday, February 03, 2022

Calling a vaccine mandate a "crime against humanity" is a travesty

James Bauder, one of the instigators and organizers of the so-called "Freedom Convoy" that is currently terrorizing and occupying Ottawa, and a long-time alt-right agitator and conspiracy theorist, has called for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to be "arrested and charged for treason" and for "crimes against humanity" for his part in establishing Canada's federal vaccination mandate.

Bauder is not the most stable or reliable of commentators - he also espouses many of QAnon's weirdest conspiracy theories - but, like it or not, he has a certain reach through his social media accounts. And others have unthinkingly spread his garbage further afield than the murky depths of QAnon aficionados. For example, only slightly weird ex-hockey player Theo Fleury recently tweeted #CrimesAgainstHumanity and #Treason hashtags in relation to Mr. Trudeau.

But how galling it is to hear people talk about crimes against humanity in this context. The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court defines a crime against humanity as "a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack", but it also outlines the kinds of attacks that might qualify for such a crime - murder, enslavement, torture, apartheid, rape and sexual violence.

No mention of the enforcement of life-saving vaccines there, nor the requirement to wear a mask to protect the vulnerable, nor maintaining a couple of metres distance from other people where possible. If these people think that their much-vaunted "freedoms" are being so unconscionably imposed on, maybe they need to have a chat with an actual victim of crimes against humanity. If they are really that fragile and pampered, they could probably use some context.

And they wonder why their movement is so small and nugatory. It's an abiding mystery to me that it is as large (or at least loud) as it is.

CNN president resigns over being human and normal

The President of American news agency CNN, Jeff Zucker, has resigned his top role. The reason? He has been carrying on a perfectly consensual relationship with the company's Chief Marketing Officer, Allison Gollust. Or, more accurately, he failed to "disclose" said relationship.

There is no suggestion of any impropriety or sexual harassment or anything like that. Mr. Zucker is safely divorced, so there's not even any kind of salacious or unethical indiscretion going on either. He just didn't "disclose" it.

Which raises the question: why on earth do two people carrying on a consensual adult relationship need to "disclose" it to anybody? Why would not "disclosing" it be a firing offence? Can they not both continue to perform their respective jobs perfectly well, while meeting up in the evenings and going out to dinner (and whatever happens after dinner)? Why is it anyone else's business at all?

Wednesday, February 02, 2022

Leading the Conservatives is like herding cats

I've never particularly liked Erin O'Toole, and I don't think he's done a particularly sterling job as leader of the federal Conservatives over the last year or two. But I'm starting to feel a bit sorry for him.

As he faces a leadership review today, and much dissent in the Tory ranks, he's on a hiding to nothing. If he is ousted, then the Conservatives will probably select a more extreme right-winger as leader, which may make them all but unelectable. If he wins, and remains as leader, he will always be in the same situation (or worse), constantly trying to herd a disparate bunch of politicians and hold them together in a single party.

Because that is the task he is faced with, and the task he has been failing at thus far. The modern Conservative Party of Canada is a such a multi-headed beast, it is, almost by definition, unmanageable. From the far right côterie, exemplified by Derek Sloane and Leslyn Lewis, to angry fiscal hawks like Pierre Poilievre, to the more traditional Red Tory old guard à la John Baird and Peter McKay, the Conservatives are three or four parties rolled into one. And then, of course, there are Western and Eastern factions, each with their own issues and profiles. However, you can see why they are reluctant to split into smaller,  more homogeneous parties, because their prospects of governing the country disappear with the changes. (Thus far, only Maxime Bernier's People's Party has splintered off, and that hasn't gone well.)

Nevertheless, for some reason, O'Toole wants to remain leader, and feels he is up to the task. It's not an enviable position, though. As is the way with these things, trying to please everyone often ends up pleasing no-one. And no-one knows this better than Erin O'Toole.


Erin O'Toole lost his vote and has resigned as leader, and by a large margin of 73 to 45. A few hours later, deputy leader Candice Bergen was voted in as interim leader until a permanent leader can be found. Make of that what you will, although she was the most obvious choice, despite her professed allegiance to the Freedom Convoy cause (she has called them "passionate, patriotic and peaceful Canadians", believe it or not), and her penchant for camouflaged MAGA hats.

As for who will ultimately lead the party, and when, that is still anyone's guess. But don't look for a magical unification: not even early favourite Pierre Poilievre can promise that (although he probably will). The Tory "Big Tent" is looking more and more like a campground of individual tents than ever.