The Original Mister Spock, R.I.P.

When he published an update to his previous memoir (entitled I Am Not Spock), Leonard Nimoy changed the title to I Am Spock. It was a rueful acknowledgement, and acceptance, that while it severely limited the number of roles he could take as an actor, he still created one of the most iconic roles in television history.

Note: not science-fiction television history. Not just that particular genre. Consider this:

Spock, while an extraterrestrial, is the second-in-command of a crew of 430, mostly from Earth. The series producer, Gene Roddenberry, was optimistic about mankind, wanting to send a message that humanity could accept other intelligent people as intellectual and social equals, but he designated Spock as an alien because, as an “outsider,” he could be an observer on contemporary events as reflected and portrayed on the show.

Yes, you had the character in strong suppression of his emotions, which led non-fans to criticize his performance as wooden. But in episodes such as “Amok Time” and “This Side of Paradise,” the viewers discovered that this was a facade: Spock did have emotions, powerful ones, which he kept in check because that was expected of him by both his culture and his contemporaries.

No other character in series television, at that time, carried that off. Not in the Westerns of the day, not in the sitcoms, not in the crime dramas. It’s one of the reasons Spock was so resonant with teenaged viewers, who experienced that same sort of conflict, dealing with a family and society that expected them to keep themselves in check just as they were beginning to assert their independence and individuality. It’s not surprising that, by the time the series ended in 1991 (yes, 1991, I’m counting the six movies as part of it), we knew more about Spock as a character than any of the other Enterprise crew, including Captain Kirk.

It would be illogical to wish Mr. Nimoy “live long and prosper,” because at 83 he’d already done that. But “it has been an honour” is definitely a fitting epitaph for this man.

Posted in R.I.P. | 1 Comment

We Don’t Need More Sana Hassainias — But We’re Going To Get Them

Sana Hassainia, you ask, what the heck is that?

Actually it’s a who: Sana Hassainia is the independent (but formerly New Democrat) MP for the Quebec riding of Verchères-Les-Patriotes, and according to the CBC she is the MP with the poorest attendance and voting record. Today, she’s announced that she won’t be running for re-election:

In a statement posted to her parliamentary website, Sana Hassainia said that she would continue to represent the citizens of Verchères-Les-Patriotes to the best of her ability as a “maman-députée.”

Okay, yes, Ms. Hassainia was one of the “Orange Crush” MPs who probably never expected to be elected. Her riding used to be held by the Bloc Québécois’ Luc Malo, which is one of the reasons why you’ve probably never heard of it (Bloc MPs usually don’t get coverage outside Quebec). What’s worrisome about this news story, though, is its description of how Ms. Hassainia saw her duties as an MP:

She also points out that it was the NDP caucus leadership that chose not to assign her to a House committee, and didn’t put her in the regular rotation for question period.

“I wasn’t among the star MPs who deserved to ask questions,” she said.

In an interview with CBC News last week, Hassainia said that she missed the votes because she didn’t feel that her vote as an opposition MP mattered with a majority government.

“So I allowed myself to do this, because it’s not my little voice that makes a difference,” she told CBC News in French.

I’m sorry, but even as a partisan Tory I’d be ticked off at that kind of attitude from any MP. Even granting her status as a mother of newborns (with which she excuses her poor attendance record), to carry the attitude that “my vote doesn’t matter because it makes no difference” does a disservice to the people who voted her into office. Even if she voted straight down the NDP party line, she can at least say that her vote is her own exercise of judgement on behalf of the people of Verchères-Les-Patriotes, expressing their concerns and will on the legislation and business before the House.

(Mind you, it’s not quite true that she didn’t have any committee work. According to the Parliamentary website, she was a full member of two committees: Status of Women and Scrutiny of Regulations. So, she’s not really a total slacker. Even so, her attitude is still a bit worrisome.)

It’s worrisome because, come the next election, we’re going to get a lot more MPs into the House. And, no matter what side they’re sitting on, the odds that some MPs will show the same attitude as Ms. Hassainia are going to be pretty good, whether they’re freshly-minted government backbenchers or Opposition newbies staring in despair at their numbers.

Posted in New DiPsticks, On The House | 1 Comment

Peter Van Loan Defines Combat

Yesterday, the Opposition raised a question of privilege, accusing the Harper government of misleading the House on the nature of Canada’s military role in Iraq. (The mission is known as Operation IMPACT, and you can find the official DND page describing it here.)

Specifically, the Opposition wanted to pin the government down on the definition of combat. Responding was house leader Peter Van Loan, and his response, while underreported (hey, it wasn’t Question Period) is still a pretty good one:

We think self-defence is not combat. We think it is common sense. We think it is what anyone would expect their troops in the field to be able to undertake. The mission is a mission to advise and assist. There is nothing in that mission to prevent our soldiers from defending themselves if they should come under fire.

The opposition, keeps using some funny terms that seem very odd to me. One is “front lines”. Another is “combat zone”. The opposition seems to think that the advise and assist mission means that our forces will never be on the front lines of the combat zone. “Front lines” is an archaic image. This is what we had in World War I, when soldiers were in trenches. There is nothing like that right now. Right now, in a place like Iraq, where our special forces are on the ground, everything is the front line. Everything is the combat zone.

In fact … the combat zone is not just in Iraq. The front lines are not just in Iraq. The combat zone, the front lines, are in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, where a Canadian soldier was killed. They are at the National War Memorial. Those are the front lines now. It is a terminology I frankly do not understand from the opposition.

I heard the hon. member say that he expects that Canadian soldiers will be “behind the wire”. They are in Iraq. There are no Canadian bases in Iraq. There is no wire to be behind. It shows a remarkable lack of understanding of what our forces are doing there.

The fact is that they are in a dangerous place, and in that dangerous place, doing the dangerous work of advising and assisting, they have, and should have, every right to defend themselves. No one has ever told this House of Commons or suggested, not this government at least, that our soldiers should go there with their hands tied behind their backs, restricted from doing that. That is the fundamental difference in this debate, and that is what it is. It is a debate.

Of course, the Opposition are right to be worried that Canada’s current role may, in the long term, escalate into something protracted and more deeply involved. But at the same time, it’s important to emphasize that the nature of the beast is, most definitely, not the same as the one that drew Canada into Afghanistan, and Mr. Van Loan does deserve kudos for drawing attention to that fact.

Posted in Can Cons, Military Matters | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

Why Jeb Bush Is Braver Than The Ontario Liberal Party

Private e-mails made public, as Sony Pictures executives and now surely attest, can sink a career. They can also, with a certain amount of bravery, bolster it. as Jeb Bush is now wont to demonstrate.

It’s a risk, certainly. Something like this, for example, is more likely to get people mad at him than be considered a satisfactory reply:

To a man who wrote “politicians make me sick, you make me sick,” Bush replied: “I am truly sorry you feel that way. Have a nice day,” adding a smiley face.

As Mr. Bush’s campaign for the 2016 presidential election becomes more seriously, we should expect a few more revelations along these lines: missives that show him being unnecessarily flippant, or at least unsympathetic on topics which the media can make mischief with.

Still, though, Mr. Bush should be applauded for making these e-mails public. Certainly it’s a bolder step than what we’ve seen from the Ontario Liberals.

Such a step would also be a good thing to see from the Prime Minister’s Office, or the offices of the opposition party leaders. It’s also a bit surprising, given Justin Trudeau’s so-called commitment to a more open process for candidate nomination, that he hasn’t offered to make public the e-mails between his office and the riding associations for which he wants to recruit potential “star” candidates.

Then again, given the complaints we’re seeing in public already, probably not.

Posted in Ontario, Politics, Yankees | Tagged , | 2 Comments

On MPs And Their Hospitality

Let me draw your attention to this story in the Ottawa Citizen, which discusses the hospitality expenses of our Members of Parliament.

More helpfully, the actual report itself is available here at the Parliamentary web site. If you want to compare hospitality expense numbers among individual MPs, there’s a search tool here.

I thought it might be interesting to use this tool, so I pulled up the expense figures for Élaine Michaud, the NDP member whom the news story names as the highest spender on hospitality; Paul Dewar, the MP for my riding of Ottawa Centre, and the three major party leaders.

The results, in alphabetical order:

Mr. Dewar had $2,007.83 allotted for hospitality during the reporting period. He spent a total of $305.94 for two meetings in June, both at the Parliamentary restaurant.

The Prime Minister had no money in his MP budget for hospitality, and the report says he spent no money. (To be fair, whatever hospitality he would have spent would be covered in the PMO budget. Different account, you might say. Or, as leader of the Conservatives, hospitality could be picked up by the party.)

Ms. Michaud had $6,190.27 budgeted for hospitality, $4,999.83 of which was spent. The majority of her expenses (which are documented here) were on town hall meetings. Considering how big her riding is (7,617 square kilometers and 81,093 registered electors) and since the attendance was substantial, the amounts do seem reasonable.

Mr. Mulcair budgeted $70 for hospitality (yes, $70), which wasn’t used. As with the Prime Minister, hospitality expenses are more likely to come out of the budget for the opposition leader’s office, which is a separate account, or the budget of the party.

Mr. Trudeau had $562.30 budgeted for hospitality, which wasn’t used. Although the leader of the third party doesn’t have an official parliamentary office, hospitality would most likely be picked up by the Liberal Party due to his role as leader.

Here’s the thing: hospitality is a recognized function of all MPs. A constituent comes to visit to discuss business, and if they go for lunch or dinner, who pays for it? Answer: the MP, because if the constituent pays it could be twisted in the media to look like undue influence. Should the MP pay for it from his / her own salary? No, because if he or she does, there won’t be a public record that the meeting took place (i.e. the restaurant bill), and sometimes it’s desirable that an MP prove that there was a meeting at which business was discussed.

Thankfully, the expenses aren’t quite as outrageous as the $18 orange juice that Bev Oda tried to put on the public tab. But they’re still necessary to the business of MPs, and nothing here seems overly extravagant. Wouldn’t you agree?

Posted in Harping, On The House, Politics, The Muleclear Reactor | 1 Comment

Resolutions for 2015

You’ll have probably noticed that I’ve been blogging a lot less than I have been, since I first started on blogspot. Part of it is because I’ve been busy with other things; a good part of it, though, is because I’m not as enthusiastic about expressing myself on politics as I used to be.

This is inevitable. After eight years of governance under Stephen Harper’s Tories, I am fully aware of its foibles and shortcomings, and I’m not completely convinced that it deserves another majority mandate. At the same time, I can’t be enthusiastic about the alternatives: Tom Mulcair’s New Democrats are still too wedded to an orthodoxy that continues to ignore reality in favor of ideological purity (witness his attempt to resurrect a form of the long-gun registry), and Justin Trudeau’s inexperience still renders him vulnerable to the old thinking of the Laurentian Consensus that got Stephen Harper elected into power in the first place.

This is one of the reasons why I switched to wordpress.com: it makes little sense financially to spend $20 a month for webhosting when I’m not actively using it. Of course the loss of the archived posts (apart from those still on blogspot) is annoying, but I don’t believe it’s any great loss.

Now in preparation for 2015, I’ve done the following:

  • I’ve got a new laptop. It’s an Asus T-100 Transformer, with 2 GB RAM and 32 GB storage expanded to 64 with a memory card — what they called, a few years ago, a netbook. I admit the name sounds like Asus’s marketing people were watching too many action movies with Schwarzenegger in them, and I’m annoyed by the lack of disk space, but it’s about the size of an iPad, it does full Windows 8, it’s got full-featured Microsoft Office (Home and Student), it’s pretty quick and the size is a lot easier on my shoulders for travel purposes. (Of course, with the small screen, video editing is out of the question, so I’m not recycling my old laptop just yet.)
  • I have an earlier pledge on this blog, which is not to do knee-jerk reactions to stuff in the news. That will still hold; if I write on current events, I will do my utmost to link you to primary sources instead of just the news stories reporting them.
  • I’d like to focus more on other politics-related matters, such as history and books on the subject. A lot of political bloggers who write about the latest books usually just keep to the news stories and the press releases. From now on, if I review a political book, it’ll be because I’ve actually bought it and read it. (This also means I’ll be expanded my book reviews to include non-political stuff as well.)

So — here’s hoping for a busier blogging New Year. Happy holidays.

Posted in Blogging | 2 Comments

Yes, Iggy’s Back. And No, You Shouldn’t Yawn

Sometimes I get the feeling our political pundits like to blast our current and former politicians as a way to pass the time. Take, for example, Michael Den Tandt’s takedown of Michael Ignatieff, just because the former Liberal leader chose to do a mini-reflection of his career in The New Republic.

Reading Mr. Den Tandt’s rant, you sorta get the feeling that he’s upset that Ignatieff would even think of trying to examine why he will be fated to become the worst leader of the Liberal Party of Canada. (No, you victims of Justin Derangement Syndrome, not second worst.) Allow me to quote:

There was no call, none, for him to again adopt the conceit of the wise, battle-scorched political warrior, casting pearls of advice to the prime ministers of tomorrow. Who, in heaven’s name, does this man imagine he is? …

… Goaded by the hellfires of ambition, or something, he casts aside the academy and, though a neophyte, hacks his way through Bob Rae’s slavering legions in the 2006 Liberal leadership race, only to be stymied at the finish by nebbish Stephane Dion. Undaunted, the great man again vaults past Rae in late 2008, early 2009. He seizes the leadership.

But then? Seems nobody in Canada, this unimaginative agglomerate of apple-fritter-chewing, beer-swilling philistines, cares about the contents of his gigantic brain.

Fortunately Mr. Ignatieff’s piece is available online here. As far as reads go, particularly from former politicians, it’s … okay. At least the man’s a bit more honest and forthcoming about his weaknesses, as well as delivering a better analysis of his poor decision-making than he’d done in his earlier memoir, Fire and Ashes. Again, let me quote:

The attacks that are hardest to deal with are not the ones that are false, but the ones that have a sliver of truth. Being out of the country was nothing to be ashamed of, but it didn’t exactly help me to establish the trust that any politician must establish with voters.

Conjuring that trust requires authenticity. You can’t pretend to be somebody you’re not. People who say politics is acting get it wrong. You’re not playing a role. You’re on stage, true enough, but you’re playing yourself….

A man like Nixon had authenticity aplenty. Voters knew exactly who he was: suspicious, manipulative, duplicitous, and just like them. They saw through him to themselves.

John Kerry fell victim to the swift-boat attack because he couldn’t own the young lieutenant back from Vietnam who gave that damning testimony in Congress about the terrible things he witnessed up the Mekong Delta. Once the swift-boat attacks hit their target, once he failed to reply, Kerry could talk, but no one was listening. He had lost his standing.

This is one of the reasons why I’m never quick to dismiss Mr. Ignatieff’s writings the way I would, say, Warren Kinsella’s. That bit about “standing” can conveniently explain why successful politicians succeed despite obvious flaws. (Oh, hello, Mayor Ford.) It also offers a very good hint on why Conservative strategists are having such a hard time knocking on Justin Trudeau: they don’t seem to get that everyone already knows and accepts that Justin has little experience, even Justin himself. That lack of experience translates into a certain amount of freedom to break from how Liberals have done business before (e.g. expelling errants from caucus).

One other quote:

People who think they’re entitled to standing—because they are brainy, rich, or famous—almost always lose. They forget you earn your standing, you are not entitled to it.

Mr. Den Tandt might need to be reminded that Mr. Ignatieff isn’t uttering a platitude, or issuing a warning to Justin. He is, in fact, talking about himself, which again is something that was lacking from that earlier memoir. It’s an acknowledgement of his own arrogance, his preconceptions about politics that had to be shattered.

And finally, there’s something that didn’t appear in Fire and Ashes: an acknowledgement, of sorts, that the Liberal Party won’t be able to return to power if it doesn’t come to terms with the way politics is practiced in the here and now. Of course, this sort of thinking is unfashionable, which may be one of the reasons why Mr. Den Tandt is upset about his reappearance; it’s always more fun to write and speculate about current perfidy and options for reform. But even losers can make a point.

Posted in Iggy Bops, Media Watch, Politics, The Third Party | Tagged , , | 6 Comments