Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Down and Down it Goes

Democracy is a lot more than just casting a ballot.

This month elections have been held in Italy and Russia that have produced distressing results. In the Italian election so-called populists parties surged to the top of the polls. The right-wing coalition and the League combined together to have 69% of the votes. This means we should expect a far-right, anti-immigrant, Eurosceptic government to form in Italy sometime soon. That said, Italy's politics has never been particularly predictable.

In Russia I'm sure the result will surprise absolutely no one. Vladimir Putin was 're-elected' to the presidency with 75% of the votes cast. The election has been widely criticized as being unfair and corrupt. Comments I'm sure that will keep Putin awake at night as he settles in for six more years in the Kremlin.

I feel these elections represent two parts of a much larger problem that is infecting democracies. Italy has not exactly been a healthy looking democracy in the twentieth century, but their election was not that dissimilar to others. Radical populists who were determined to cast out others campaigned hard to split the population. It's hard to imagine how African or Middle Eastern Italians will sit comfortably in their country if someone who actively campaigned against them becomes the next prime minister.

One of the things I have a problem with is that some of these 'new' parties or types of leaders seem so entirely antithetical to democracy is hard to see how they fit within our modern understanding of what democracy should be like. Democracy isn't just getting elected. You can be democratically elected and still be anti-democracy. Democracy needs to include the freedom of the press, the respect for the rule of law, and I would suggest basic decency towards our fellow human beings. If people want to preserve their democratic societies then they need to reject these sorts of politics.

I don't say these things because the left-wing should have won. I say these things because I don't think democracies can survive if the winners of elections compare categories of people to vermin or animals.

The Russian example is the sad conclusion perhaps. The undemocratic parties have seized control and elections are merely performative. Little more than the exercise communist regimes would do. The dear leader is swept back into power with a super majority and we do not need to worry anymore. Far too often in the twenty-first century voters seem ready to trade liberal democracy for confirmation of their own biases, the mirage of security and promises of a better life. People seem far happier accepting the comfortable lie than confronting the unpleasant truth. This theme seems to return again, and again, and again.

And I'm getting awfully tired of it.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Worth Reading - March 15, 2018

Papers, Please is a video game that came out a few years ago. It was praised for its strong underlying message and simple mechanics. It also had a powerful visual style. Filmmakers took that to make a 10 minute, live-action short film, which I would recommend. 

I love this headline: 'One day, a highly qualified woman will defeat a loud-talking man in politics'. Enjoy

Steve Paikin ponders, who does John Tory want to be the next premier

John Michael McGrath writes how the Progressive Conservatives could still lose this coming election

Jon Lorinc says we need a real race for the mayoralty of Toronto, and I would tend to agree. 

A tale of two streets, cars versus people. 

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Ford Nation Across Ontario

As the initial controversy of the Progressive Conservative leadership race fades, Doug Ford seems to be holding on to his initial win and will continue to be the leader of that party. Barring more chaos he will lead Ontario's right-wing party in the June provincial election.

Each of the potential leaders presented unique strengths and weaknesses. Let's take a moment to examine Doug Ford's potential impact on the June vote.

First, Doug Ford and the Ford Nation hold real sway in the Greater Toronto Area. As many Ontarians are disgusted by the Ford years another group views them as their advocates and champions. Somehow the sons of a politician and wealthy businessowners defend the little guy. It was enough to win a third of the vote in "liberal" Toronto though. In 2014 when Doug Ford sought to succeed his brother he received 33.73% of the vote.

Second, Doug Ford's name recognition comes at a cost. The rocky tenure and his questionable past are still in the public memory. Ford is a polarizing figure, and some voters are likely just as turned off by him. However, those people are likely to lean Liberal and NDP anyway.

Let's play out some scenarios.

1. ABL (Anyone But Liberal)

Patrick Brown was poised to sweep to the premiership with few Ontarians knowing who he is. Ontario for 23 years has flipped between Liberals and Progressive Conservatives. With the Wynne government unpopular Ford may not matter much, the result is baked in already.

2. Ford Torpedoes the Party

The polarizing spectre of Ford pushes voters toward the Liberals or NDP to stop him from becoming premier. The bullying, blustering, right-wing Ford drives voters to the left-wing parties who dread Ford Nation on a provincial scale. As an unpracticed campaigner he is unable to galvanize the wide electorate into a winning coalition.

3. Ford Helps

Ford's popularity is likely rooted in the GTA. If Liberal fortunes fall his advantage might flip seats in Etobicoke, Scarborough and elsewhere in the city and region. Places like Peel, Durham and York might find his message and persona persuasive. Low taxes and "clean" government are simple messages. Hell, he could steal the line about the gravy train directly from his brother's campaign. This only become more true if the NDP and Liberals fight for the same votes in Toronto and elsewhere.

The PCs might have other issues. Ford seems to be pushing for a new platform despite the significant effort that went into crafting the current one. Candidates were recruited under Patrick Brown and a more moderate platform. He very narrowly won the leadership and knives are out for Ford if he fails or stumbles.

Despite what polls say now the election is too close to call. I assume now it'll be a nasty, dirty election as the two main parties launch desperate attacks at each other. A very real opportunity exists for the NDP to take advantage of its damaged opponents and make gains. All in all, this is set to be one of the most interest provincial elections in many years.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Worth Reading - March 8, 2018

Earlier this week I savaged Star Trek: Discovery. Here is an article (which is wrong) that praises the show

Ontario's chief scientist talks about how to cultivate an interest in science

Women on Parliament Hill talk about their experience with harassment and abuse

Has Donald Trump caused a crisis in political satire

Given the rushed nature and the crisis at the top, it is unsurprising that the PC Party leadership candidates are raising questions about the process. 

Martin Regg Cohn sees a glimmer of hope in our provincial democracy

Martin Regg Cohn warns that the PCs may be about to choose the right leader, but too late

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

TV Review: Star Trek: Discovery - Season 1

I feel like when I sit down to discuss Star Trek: Discovery it begins with a heavy sigh. Like the worst sort of parent feedback, I'm disappointed. I consider myself a Star Trek fan, though not a fanatic. I enjoy it as genuinely good science fiction without learning Klingon or having seen every episode of every series. For those curious I have seen every episode the ST: The Next Generation, ST: Voyager, and (my favourite) ST: Deep Space 9, often many times. I've never watched the original series, and I watched a season or two of ST: Enterprise.

When Discovery was first announced I was very excited. The promise of a serialized Star Trek in the so-called Golden Age of Television seemed a recipe for a seriously powerful television. DS9 is my favourite of the series and a number of articles have come out, including by Max Temkin, talking about how DS9 foretold where TV was going to a certain degree. A grand narrative joined with a time screaming out for critical science fiction was an exciting promise.

Star Trek: Discovery failed to deliver that for me.

Be forewarned reader, the possibility for spoilers lies ahead.

Fundamentally I think Discovery suffers from weak, thin characters. I consider myself a close observer of the shows I watch. I gave Discover a real shot, but only a few episodes away from the conclusion of the season I was watching an episode and struggled to name the characters on the screen. A member of the cast shared a picture of the ship's crew and I struggled to name more than four of the characters of the fifteen people in the photo.

It's a damning statement. What made more recent Star Trek interesting were the characters by large measure. The fact that I am indifferent or ignorant to most of the cast is a problem. There were a handful I liked. I liked Saru and Tilly, Lorca and Admiral Cornwall, I thought they brought something to the table. Tilly was by far the most fun part of the show, but often felt like a Star Trek fan in the middle of a Star Trek show.

The show endured strong narrative swings that seemed to be justified for the sake of hard, dramatic swings. Big, universe changing events take place in the series but seem to have no consequence, not really. Or if it does, we don't witness it and the crew doesn't deal with it.

Deep Space 9 in its final seasons was a war series. The morality, cost, brutality and romanticism of war was on full display. Here, the pilot kicks off a war between the Federation and the Klingon Empire and it seemly has no impact on the characters. No one loses people. The death and destruction wrought is barely registered.

The show offered moral complexity and stripped it away. A late season twist reveals that our problematic, challenging characters are really just a product of the evil side of the universe. Instead of dealing with the reality of a semi-military organization at war we are told any discussion of means justifying ends, or ethics in war against a tenacious enemy we get a pulled punch.

I am not a person married to the canon. I thought the divergence was unnecessary and now we have a third major Star Trek timeline to deal with. The divergence feels like a flimsy excuse to make fan service without any attempt to respect the canon. A friend and I easily spun up half a dozen interesting ideas for Star Trek set after Voyager, but alas, we were not consulted. The show borrows icons from the franchise while paying no respect to its legacy. The series, so far, is devoid of interesting critiques of contemporary issues or explorations of humanity.

Michael Burnham is a weak, uninteresting lead. The way she is shoehorned into the canon feels ridiculous as Spock's adopted sister. Her semi-Vulcan personality and relationship with Sarek are dull and stifles the character and at the same time they do nothing to pay it off. Burnham's relationship with Ash Tyler is laughably bad and ends in a twist so predictable that the show sags in the middle because of it. The writers never invest time in fleshing out these characters and making them engaging. When they die or suffer the audience has little ability to connect with them.

The season concludes with a bizarre deus ex machina ending that seems to set everything to rights once again, utterly ignoring the consequences of several characters' actions and an entire war. A friend rightfully pointed out that season two could do that but I have my sincere doubts.

For positives the show is quite visually pleasing. Some of the characters are quite enjoyable. And that's about it. Like I said, a real disappointment. Discovery feels like a generic space action show with little ties to the franchise's roots while paying it lip service. On the other hand, many shows get off to rough starts and find their way later, but Discovery is lurching badly into the unknown when last seen.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Worth Reading - March 1, 2018

This piece went quite viral when it came out, Jen Gerson wrote about the phone call that ended Patrick Brown's leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario. 

Before he dropped out Andrew Coyne wrote a scathing satire of Patrick Brown's leadership bid

A writer at Strong Towns talks about bridging the gap between gentrification and affordable housing

Kurzgesagt put out a video about String Theory. Enjoy! 

Andrea Horwath has a difficult path to navigate. She must win over disaffected Liberals and prevent the PCs from sweeping into power in a wave.

Much of this doesn't align with my experience, but here is an article talking about the unpleasant nature of working in a movie theatre

Strong Towns takes a look at value capture, the good, the bad and the ugly. 

Also from Strong Towns, how cheap pop-up shops are revitalizing a small downtown

John Michael McGrath writes in defence of political elites

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Four Candidates Fight for PC Leadership

Believe it or not this Friday Progressive Conservatives begin voting for their next leader. It's hard to imagine. The PC leadership has been marked by chaos and seeming panic from even a casual observer's perspective. Patrick Brown threw his hat into the leadership race, one presumes, in an attempt to reclaim his 'good' name. That lasted eleven days before he withdrew.

Four candidates stand to lead the party likely best poised to form the next government. They will be debating tonight at 6:30 PM, for those interested. 

Tanya Granic Allen is the little known candidate running as a social conservative. Her primary motivating issue is sex education in public schools. She is a staunch social conservative and not easily dismissed. As reported by the CBC she has raised a significant amount of money for her campaign and leads an organization that purports to have 80000 supporters.

Christine Elliott was a former MPP and ran for the leadership against Patrick Brown but fell short. I hesitate to designate her the frontrunner, but she is clearly among the 'sane' choices the PCs have before them. Of those running she has the most experience in the provincial political arena. She has been considered a moderate within the Progressive Conservatives. I think most observers would say that she would be the safe choice for the party in this difficult time.

Doug Ford, yes, that Doug Ford, is running to lead the PCs as well. He is running on a similar brand of populism as his brother Rob. It has always struck me as galling given that his brother was a career politician and his father was a MPP. His main points have been to root out the corruption and waste in Queen's Park and the PC Party. Of all the candidates in the race he likely has the greatest name profile which alone would give him a strong basis to contend the leadership. However, his negative impressions is very high.

Caroline Mulroney is a successful businessperson and daughter of the former Prime Minister of the same name. She was going to run in the 2018 provincial election and when Brown resigned threw her name in to become leader of the party. She is somewhat unknown in provincial politics. Recently the CBC reported that her campaign is struggling. Political experience matters and going for the leadership without holding elected office may be too great of a jump for Mulroney.

A new leader will be selected on March 10 to lead the Progressive Conservatives into the next election. While they continue to poll high it is undoubtedly true that whichever of these four individuals are selected will have to win the trust of Ontarians. If PC members select unwisely they may send their party into the wilderness and deliver Wynne a surprise victory, or create a substantial opportunity for the NDP and Andrea Horwath.