Latin American drug wars are our fault

Wednesday, 22 September 2010 14:00

Please allow me to put in print what an awful lot of Latin American politicians would like to say to their Canadian colleagues:

You know how the illicit drug trade has plagued the countries of Latin America for decades? You know how it spreads corruption, undermines governance, and distorts economies? You know how it stacks corpses like cordwood?

You know the carnage happening in Mexico right now? More than 26,000 people dead?

You know all that? Good. Because you are responsible.

Yes, you. None of this would be happening if the drug trade hadn't been banned -- that just handed it on a silver tray to thugs, gangsters, terrorists, and guerrillas. And you know who banned it? Your country. Canada.

Patients' anecdotes are not evidence

Friday, 10 September 2010 11:33

Judging by the controversy surrounding the refusal of the federal government to fund clinical trials of the "liberation treatment" of multiple sclerosis, the media and the public have forgotten one of the biggest health stories of the early 1990s. A reminder is in order.

The issue then was silicone breast implants. In the 1980s, case studies of women who got sick after getting implants started to pop up in medical journals. Their illnesses were serious -- mostly connective tissue diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.

News of a lawsuit against manufacturers was widely reported. More stories surfaced in medical journals and the news media.

Speaking no evil

Friday, 03 September 2010 15:38

Speaking no evilLast spring, female suicide bombers set off massive explosions that tore apart two subway stations in central Moscow, close to the headquarters of the FSB (the domestic successor agency to the KGB). Dozens of people were killed. Scores were injured.

Later that day, Bill Bennett interviewed William Kristol on Bennett's radio show. Bennett, a former high-ranking official in the Reagan and Bush administrations, is a heavyweight in Republican circles. Kristol is an influential neo-conservative and ultra-hawk.

Stephen Harper bids adieu to reality

Friday, 06 August 2010 14:10

Stephen Harper bids adieu to realityA slim majority of Conservative party members believe homosexuals should be arrested and imprisoned in federal dinner theatres, where they would perform The Sound of Music and other wholesome entertainment for children and seniors. Twenty per cent of the Conservative caucus dropped acid with the Grateful Dead. At least three cabinet ministers have outstanding arrest warrants in Nepal; one is a former member of the Manson family.

In the past, I would not have presented these claims as facts because they're not "true," in the narrow sense of an assertion supported by logic and evidence. That stuff mattered to me. I was a "member of the reality-based community," as a Bush administration official famously said about people who "believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality."

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Why you can trust the census, but not polls

Wednesday, 28 July 2010 14:07

Why you can trust the census, but not pollsIn 1936, a massive poll of 2.3 million Americans revealed that the forthcoming presidential election would be won in a landslide by Alf Landon. Alf, who? Right. There was indeed a landslide in 1936, but the winner was Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Yes, this is ancient history. But bear with me. This famous poll is a standard illustration in Stats 101 classes. With the census controversy continuing to dominate the front pages of newspapers, we could all use a little Stats 101.

It's hard to overstate just how mammoth that famous poll was, particularly in an era before computers. Conducted by The Literary Digest, a popular magazine, the first step was to gather an astonishing 10 million addresses from automobile registration lists and telephone books. Ballots were mailed to every one of those addresses. Roughly 2.3 million were returned. When the numbers were added up, it was Landon in a landslide. And with a survey that big, how could it be wrong?

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Hypocrites On Stilts

Wednesday, 21 July 2010 20:47

On Monday, Industry minister Tony Clement took to Twitter's ramparts and resumed the Battle of the Census. "Data is valuable to many," he tweeted. "But personal questions you would like to force Cdns to answer on pain of jail is just plain wrong." Bad grammar, but the point was clear: The mandatory long-form census must go.

Conservative MP Maxime Bernier, who has increasingly been taking the lead in defending the government, was even more explicit. "Fundamentally, my position is that whatever the presumed usefulness of these data, I don't believe it justifies forcing people to answer intrusive questions about their lives, under threat from a fine or jail time if they don't."

So it's agreed, then. The mandatory long-form census has no place in a free and democratic society that respects the privacy of its citizens. This is a matter of the highest principle to these principled politicians and the principled government they serve.

Which is why I am sure they will be alarmed at what I am about to reveal.

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Statisticians gone wild

Friday, 16 July 2010 14:05

Statisticians gone wildTo turn statistical methodology into a political controversy, a government has to really screw up. But to make statisticians shriek and flap their arms like wounded albatrosses, to cause policy wonks to turn purple with rage, to compel retired civil servants to dispense with a lifetime of discretion and denounce the government's gobsmacking jackassery to reporters ... Well, that's something special.

Now, personally, I adore discussions of statistical methodology. Can't get enough. And so, I must admit, I was a little tickled when Industry Minister Tony Clement ordered Statistics Canada to change the census without the slightest public consultation.


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The thrill of righteous violence

Wednesday, 07 July 2010 14:03

The thrill of righteous violenceA few years ago in Moscow, I interviewed Edward Limonov, novelist and leader of the National Bolsheviks, a banned political party mostly famous for their party banner -- identical to the flag of Nazi Germany, but with the hammer and sickle in place of the swastika. I expected a vivid display of crazy. I got something much more interesting.

Formally, the National Bolsheviks, which Limonov founded, are the ideological blend of ultra-nationalism and communism their banner suggests. But that's misleading. Limonov's politics have shifted as often and as dramatically as the weather. He has even made common cause with Gary Kasparov's pro-Western liberals.

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Our Idea Of "Too Old" Must Change

Wednesday, 30 June 2010 11:34

John de Chastelain, the acclaimed general and diplomat, said something enormously important last week when he responded to rumours that he would be the next governor general. It's not on, said de Chastelain, who will be 73 in July. He's too old. "It would be appropriate to have someone younger and perhaps with better qualifications than mine," de Chastelain told the Globe and Mail.

Discount that bit about qualifications. The accomplishments expected of a governor general have been declining for a generation and de Chastelain's résumé towers over that of any recent occupant of Rideau Hall. But he is indeed almost 73. And he is far from alone in thinking that makes him too old.

Which is a problem for all of us. A big problem.

Why Environmentalists Should Love Babies

Saturday, 08 May 2010 11:30

Environmentalists should be worried about Canada's fertility rate. It's too low. We need to make more babies. It's the green thing to do.

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