In Praise of Shame

Human beings are flawed creatures. All of us are afflicted, to some degree, by laziness, greed, selfishness, dishonesty and every other distasteful characteristic that haunts our species. Living in civilized society requires us to suppress that side of our nature, and so we’ve developed all kinds of mechanisms to keep those impulses at bay. One of the more important ones, no doubt, is shame: the idea that there are certain things that one simply does not say or do in public, no matter how much one may want to, out of fear that those around us will disapprove.

I was recently reminded of the great value of shame, as I read an interview with Montreal restaurateur David McMillan. McMillan’s flagship restaurant, Joe Beef, needs no introduction to Montreal foodies. Consistently rated as one of the best in the country – if not the world – Joe Beef has flourished in one of the toughest dining markets around. Read more

The Sham of Democratic Reform

Often, when politicians break their promises the voters politely look the other way. After all, they understand that such promises are not to be taken seriously. Occasionally, however, a commitment comes back to haunt the candidate that abandons it, and Justin Trudeau’s guarantee that last year’s vote “will be the last federal election conducted under the first-past-the-post voting system” may be among them. While it was always going to be difficult to pivot away from such a clear pledge, the Liberals’ response to the report submitted by the all-party committee they themselves created was particularly inelegant, as the responsible minister insulted its authors, mocked their use of mathematics, and did little to dispel the notion that the entire exercise was a sham. Read more

Who’d a Thunk It?

Canada’s Auditor General used his fall report to Parliament to break 2016’s least surprising item: the federal government is a mess that stubbornly refuses to clean itself up. The litany of chronic problems that Michael Ferguson notes include the following:

  1. “Programs that are managed to accommodate the people running them rather than the people receiving the services.”
  2. “Programs in which the focus is on measuring what civil servants are doing rather than how well Canadians are being served.”
  3. “Regulatory bodies that cannot keep up with the industries they regulate.”
  4. “Public accountability reports that fail to provide a full and clear picture of what is going on for a myriad of reasons—such as systems that are outdated or just not working, or data that is unreliable or incomplete, not suited to the needs, or not being used.”

Read more

Not to Praise Castro, but to Bury Him

The life of a revolutionary need not be a hard one: having survived so long one wondered if he was immortal, former Cuban President Fidel Castro died yesterday at age 90. Unsurprisingly, the news was greeted with intense reactions; if nothing else, the man left few people indifferent.

By any reasonable standard, Castro was a disaster for his country. He leaves behind an impoverished land virtually devoid of freedom, where the most banal opening constitutes a major reform. His party won praise for Cuba’s education system, even as it imposed strict censorship, banned private libraries and cut its people off from the world. It won accolades for a healthcare system in which infant mortality is reduced by aborting “substandard” fetuses and doctors are rented to foreign governments like chattel. Castro’s recklessness came close to triggering global nuclear war. His destruction of Cuba’s economy left people on the brink of starvation when Soviet aid collapsed. Many Cubans preferred to float through shark-infested waters on precarious rafts rather than endure his socialist paradise. And not once did Castro give Cubans an opportunity to choose a path different from the one he imposed on them. Read more

Government Isn’t the Solution

If US presidents have accumulated genuinely terrifying powers, such as the authority to execute American citizens without trial, it’s in part because they built on lesser powers that have accumulated over time in the Oval Office and in Washington generally. To roll back the powers that everyone agrees are scary, we also need to roll back those that some believe are appropriate. And that means changing how we think about achieving our policy objectives.

There’s no shortage of policy goals we could use as an example, but let’s take increasing access to birth control among low-income women. If you can’t relate because you don’t think that this goal is desirable, don’t worry, this same reasoning could apply to almost any other objective.

Currently, the most commonly-advocated way to promote access to low-cost birth control seems to be enacting a law; for example, one to provide direct subsidies or to oblige health insurers to cover it. The goal is achieved by compelling third parties to assist women in obtaining their pills, IUDs, etc. An alternative approach, one that’s perhaps less-commonly touted, is to support groups, such as Planned Parenthood, that provide birth control to women in need.

Which alternative is better? Read more

It Wasn’t Misogyny

If you’re wondering why Trump won, there’s good news: the internet has the answer. From elite condescension, to uneducated voters, to outright racism, everyone has an explanation.

One of the more popular theories seems to be that Hilary Clinton lost the election due to misogyny: American voters preferred to elect a woefully under-qualified man rather than a supremely-qualified woman. Setting aside Trump for a moment, the implication is that Clinton was a near-perfect candidate, one who could be opposed only by retrogrades (or “deplorables“) obsessed by her sex. So for those of you who find this particular argument convincing, I submit the following for your consideration: Read more

In Search of Silver Linings

Where to begin?

America’s President-elect is a man whose flaws have been so well-documented as to make documenting them redundant. If you remain unconvinced that Donald J. Trump is anything other than wholly unfit in both temperament and ideology to hold the office of the President of the United States, nothing on Earth will convince you otherwise. But, as concerned as I am by the thought of the incoming president, at the moment I’m more preoccupied with the incumbent. Read more

Whose Life is it Anyway

What was supposed to be the happiest day of Éloïse Dupuis’ life – the day she became a mother – instead became the last. Dupuis hemorrhaged while giving birth and, while the doctors managed to save her child’s life, they were helpless to save hers since Dupuis, a Jehovah’s Witness, had specifically withheld consent to a blood transfusion.

For those of us who are not religious, it’s difficult to understand why anyone would rather die than accept a life-saving procedure that presents little risk. That said, a bedrock medical principle is that intervention requires consent (save in cases where consent must be presumed, such as when a patient is brought to the hospital unconscious). Unfortunately, some have decided that this cornerstone of medical ethics and law should be set aside when a person refuses consent for what they deem to be unsatisfactory reasons. Read more