Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Unberable Lightness of Michael Harris, Part 2: Mowat Logic

Michael Harris' Party of One has finally arrived. And as Prime Minister Stephen Harper has not been the sort of politician that provokes impartial thought -- very few media types have been up to this task, and many who lay claim to a reputation for impartial thought most certainly haven't -- very few impartial reviews of the book are available.

But when I first set myself to the task of examining Harris' "journalistic" work at iPolitics, I made a prediction: that given how stale, banal and amateurish his work at iPolitics was, we could expect his book to be pretty much more of the same.

The book either hasn't disappointed, or has disappointed, based on whether or not you think more of the same stale, banal and amateurish work is a bad thing. Today, the following page of the book was tweeted by a critical reader:
In this excerpt from the book, Harris invokes Farley Mowat -- who served bravely as an officer during the Second World War, God bless his soul -- to rage against the very idea, often attributed to Harper, that Canada is a "warrior nation."

Earlier in the book, Harris makes the case that this so-called "transformation" of Canada into a "warrior nation" was rationalized largely around Canada's participation in the Afghanistan War. Harris also blathers a little about the War of 1812 -- apparently he's rather disturbed that the Canadian government would commemorate a key anniversary in Canadian history -- and a little bit about Libya, but it's mostly about the Afghanistan War.

Mowat fumed that "this son of a bitch incited Canada into becoming a warrior nation."

The logic is altogether absent. If Canada truly has recently become "a warrior nation" -- and has not always been at least partially so all along -- and that transformation was predicated on the Afghanistan War, then that transformation pre-dated Harper's time in office.

After all, it wasn't Harper who was Prime Minister when Canada committed its troops to the decade-plus-long conflict. It was Jean Chretien. He did so without a Parliamentary vote, and without any significant debate. Quite the contrast to how Harper handled the extension of the Afghanistan mission, the Libya mission, and the now-ongoing Iraq mission.

(So much for Harper the anti-democrat.)

Not to mention that Liberals were supportive of the deployment of CF-18s against Muammar al-Ghadaffi in Libya, and against ISIS in Iraq. While Liberal leader Justin Trudeau has chosen to play politics with the latter in hopes of picking up a few stray votes from the NDP, the fractures in his party are crystal clear. It's obvious that were political roles reversed Canada's contribution to the two conflicts would be every bit the same.

So there's a rather glaring factual and logical error. Perhaps we can expect that from Mowat, who for all his writing talent and his iconic Canadian writings was also known to be a little eccentric -- and who was apparently enamoured enough with Pierre Trudeau so as to gift him a dog -- but as a journalist, part of Harris' job is supposed to be to mediate such remarks against facts and against at least basic logic. He seems to have made no effort to perform that vital task in these pages.

Perhaps because if he had the natural and unforced conclusions would hurt his narrative.

All the same, I get the sense that Michael Harris' book has had its 15 minutes of fame. Booksellers don't seem to be especially enthusiastic about it, and I imagine the anti-Harper nutjobs who are the totality of the book's intended audience have already bought their copies.

I don't expect to hear much about the book in future. Excerpts such as the one above make it clear why.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Dear Amy MacPherson

I'd like to thank you for making me part of your deranged story defending Jian Ghomeshi. Now that you have, I consider you obligated to answer my very-specific criticisms of your *ahem* "work" on this story.

I'm amused to see you finally see that you've felt some embarrassment at taking the side of someone who seems to get his jollies by beating up women in the bedroom. This suggests to me that perhaps you actually do have some shame, even if you're too proud to acknowledge it publicly.

As with previous updates to your story, I'll dispense will the most banal and meaningless portions of it. You may recall that after Lucy DeCoutere came forward -- and you suggested she was essentially acting as a lacky for the government. I believe your exact words were "civilians won't substantiate for the Star's claims, but the army will." I asked if you would attempt the same hitjob on Reva Seth.

While I'm surprised to see that you actually did, I'm actually quite amused to see that in doing so you've managed to lose your own plot:

"A day after publishing, her article was edited without identifying the changes and the Huffington Post declined to reveal her ties to the executive of the federal Liberal party."

Uh, what?

Amy, this whole time you've been screeching about l'affaire Ghomeshi being the centerpiece of some sort of Conservative Party conspiracy to undermine the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. You haven't been able to demonstrate the involvement of even a single CPC figure in the story, but you've alleged this nonetheless. So now your complaint is that the Huffington Post -- you know, that online publication that hasn't carried any of your work in more than a year -- didn't disclose Reva Seth's links to the Liberal Party?

I hate to break this to you, but this doesn't support what your argument has been. It in fact undermines it. You must realize this... don't you?

What amuses me even more is the precise means by which you draw the connection between Reva Seth and the Liberal Party:

"Three months later in August 2014 and two months before the Ghomeshi scandal, the identity of Seth’s husband that was carefully concealed from all other sources was finally mentioned in the Globe and Mail. It turns out that Reva Seth is married to Rana Sarkar and the latter is a close friend of Gerald Butts, who is widely known as Justin Trudeau’s top advisor and longtime pal since childhood.

Recently Sarkar lost his nomination in Don Valley North and it was an unexpected turn of events. The party executive agreed to change the nomination date and this led to accusations of impropriety, as well as complaints about the open nomination process. When Sarkar lost by a margin of 3:1, accusations were levelled against Ontario cabinet minster, Michael Chan, for interfering. Ethnic tensions were also stoked regarding manipulation of the Chinese community to achieve this result."

Huh. So Seth's husband is a failed Liberal nominee. Amy, you seem to have no notion that it's unreasonable to cast aspersions on Seth's motivations by citing the political affiliations of her husband. You don't think that Seth is her own person or something?

Beyond that, Amy, I feel that you must answer the following extremely-important question: why, exactly, would the detail that Seth's husband is a Liberal and a friend of Gerald Butts be disclosed in a column in which Seth explains why she made the mistake of not going to the police with her experience being abused by Jian Ghomeshi?

I imagine that your pal Andrew Mitrovica has never bothered to explain this to you, but whether or not disclosure is ethically required as part of a story or a column is whether or not it's relevant to the subject matter of the story or column.

You don't have to be Inspector freaking Poirot to figure out that the detail that Seth's husband is a Liberal is not relevant to Seth's story of abuse at the hands of Jian Ghomeshi. Amy, if you wish to make the case that it is, then that case is up to you to try to make. But considering that your tactic to date has been to allege that Ghomeshi has been the victim of a CPC conspiracy theory, the detail that the only person whose political involvements you've been able to demonstrate is Seth's husband does not work in your favour.

Previously, I made a half-joke -- because I was only half-joking -- that you've been trying to draw these partisan associations in a badly-contrived game of "six degrees of Kevin Bacon." It's a fun game to play when you're at a party, but the methodology of this game is not a sound journalistic process.

To explain this to you most simply, Amy, drawing a connection of two or more Kevin Bacons during the game does not actually mean that the people being associated actually know or have ever even met Kevin Bacon. It's a game of remote association. Most people understand this.

So while it's more impressive that, in adapting this game as your "journalistic method," you can draw a connection between Reva Seth and Gerald Butts in just two Gerald Buttses than drawing a connection between Lucy DeCoutere and Stephen Harper in three Stephen Harpers, that remains entirely illusory. It doesn't in itself mean that Seth has ever actually met Butts (although I would personally expect that she probably has) and even if she has it doesn't mean that Seth or Butts have any involvement in this conspiracy you bizarrely theorize about.

Before I close out here, I'm going to take note of one more means by which you've attempted to sweep Seth away:

"I inquired about Seth’s credentials. At the Law Society of Upper Canada I found that Reva Seth surrendered her licence and is no longer permitted to practice law in this country. Although she did obtain her degree at Western University, it’s been a number of years since she’s been licenced in this discipline and the degree was a foundation for the next leg of her education.

In journalism it’s expressly important to describe personalities correctly. An example is consensus that a PhD can’t be addressed with the title 'doctor', or it would confuse the public too much about the authority of medical practitioners. If Ms. Seth and the Huffington Post had been forthcoming, they would have identified the complainant as a former lawyer, or someone who holds a law degree but doesn’t update skills as required to maintain a practice, with the authority to advise clients or the public at large."

Well, first off Black's Law Dictionary defines a lawyer as "a person learned in the law." Seth may not practice as a lawyer now, but she has in the past. It's not outrageous that she or others continue to describe her as a lawyer. I'm sure that if she described herself as practicing, or tried to practice, the LSUC will take issue with that. Until such a time as they do you're just grasping at straws, and you already were doing so the instant you contacted the LSUC. Whether or not Reva Seth is a practicing lawyer now is not especially relevant to why she did or didn't come forward then.

But I'd love to make use of this passage to drive home a point I've been making about your professional status as a journalist:

You describe yourself as a journalist in your Twitter profile, and you try to tell the rest of us what is or isn't important in journalism. You promote yourself as a journalist. Yet according to your own profile page on the Huffington Post, that publication hasn't carried any of your work in more than a year now.

Apparently you were, for a short time, a blogger with the CBC. They no longer carry your work either. In fact, I've searched around trying to find even a single publication, online or otherwise, that carries your work. The only one that seems to do so is your own blog.

I don't think it's at all unreasonable to take these facts together and conclude that you are not now really a journalist, you're just some deranged and deluded crank who publishes to her own blog because no one else will have her. Even hasn't picked up any of your bile, and their standards are almost non-existent.

I think there's a reason for that.

But I'll tell you what, Amy: I'll conclude this blogpost with my personal challenge to you. We'll see how your work measures up ethically, seeing as how you like to talk as if you're all about the ethics.

I challenge you to at least attempt to register your blog as a news organization with the Ontario Press Council. That would make you subject to their judgements regarding the ethical standing of your work. Once you've done this, I'll submit an ethical complaint regarding your take on the Jian Ghomeshi story, specifically about your treatment of those who have complained against Ghomeshi.

If the OPC gives you a pass, you can consider yourself vindicated. I'll then withdraw any and all objections to the ethical standing of your work.

If the OPC rules against you, however, you stop referring to yourself as a journalist and apologize directly to Jian Ghomeshi's victims.

Don't get me wrong, though: I honestly don't expect you to accept this very-generous deal. Because not only are you well and truly fucked in the head, but I think you know it.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Memo to Amy MacPherson: It's Over

...Her career, I mean. If she ever works anywhere in the Canadian media again it's going to have to be because some editor somewhere is even more fucked in the head than she is.

Because Amy MacPherson is fucked in the head. I don't really enjoy saying it, but it just so happens to be the most concise way of saying it.

Yesterday, I noted on High Noon that concerned readers -- concerned about the sheer dementia of her take on l'affaire Jian Ghomeshi -- had questioned her about yesterday's developments in the case. Most significantly that actress/RCAF Captain Lucy DeCoutere had come forward.

MacPherson promised an update to her story in "a few." Finally, at 8:48 am ET (6:48 am MT) MacPherson vomited forth this:
So MacPherson's response to Lucy DeCoutere coming forward is, effectively, to smear her by playing "six degrees of Stephen Harper." She managed to make the connection in just three Stephen Harpers. That would be impressive if it weren't incredibly deranged.

And as for MacPherson's claim that "civilians won't substantiate the Star's claims?" Well, today author Reva Seth came forward. Not only is Ms Seth not in the Armed Forces, she's a lawyer. So for MacPherson to try to discredit her with an ad hominem attack, as she tried and failed with DeCoutere, may not be entirely wise.

If anyone has attempted to confront Ms MacPherson with this bit of information over Twitter she has yet to respond. But she also has yet to delete her incredibly deranged conspiracy theory from the internets either (memo to Ms MacPherson: good luck with that).

Absolutely nothing about MacPherson's take on the story makes sense, or is even supported by the evidence -- or any evidence at all. MacPherson has yet to produce any evidence to even remotely support her theory. She's produced no evidence to support involvement from Rob Ford. She's produced no evidence to support involvement from Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Yet she rambles on regardless.

Whatever Amy MacPherson's next move is, one thing is beyond question: it ought to be retirement. Another thing is beyond question: it probably won't be.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Now That I've Been Convinced About Jian Ghomeshi...

Let me start out by noting that Jian Ghomeshi has not yet been charged criminally, nor has he been convicted. I'm told that Lucy DeCouture will press charges, but we'll see about that.

That being said, I think I'd like to see if Jian Ghomeshi would like it if I choked him and slapped him around just a little bit. I'm going to draw the line at pushing him down and groping him, but I will declare myself thusly: if I ever encounter this guy I'm going to fuck him up.

But there's more yet that needs to be said. People who do the things Ghomeshi has been now-convincingly-alleged to have done are half the problem with sexual violence against women. But there's another half of the problem, and I'm going to go ahead and say what it is. Even knowing that I'll face a rhetorical swarming over it, I'll say it:

The other half of the problem is the women who stay quiet about it.

Don't get me wrong. I don't mean to be callous about this: I feel like I understand that it's not easy for a woman who has been victimized to come forward. They have a lot to worry about. I understand that sometimes their assailant is in a position of power over them. I understand that there are some who blame the victim. I understand it can be painful to recount their experiences. I get all that. I get that coming forward is tough. I understand it, and I sympathize.

But here's what must be said: predators thrive off the silence of their victims. Unstopped, they continue to claim more victims, and it's in no small part because their victims don't speak up.

Whether their victims are intimidated, persuaded, or rationalized into silence there is one thing that is certain: the silence of the victim always, always, always works to the advantage of the predator. Always. Always. Always.

That doesn't make them to blame for future victimizations. The only one to blame is the predator. But in staying silent they become an unwilling enabler to the predator. No one has to like this, but that doesn't mean that it's not true.

I'd hope that Lucy DeCouture -- who may have found her courage late, but found it nonetheless -- would tell women to never stay silent about this kind of an attack. To stop the predator dead in their tracks, and never allow them to victimize again. Just like Jian Ghomeshi should have been stopped.

In closing, Moxy Fruvous was a shitty band.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Unforgiven: Defeatists, Partisans & Peaceniks Need to Put a Sock In It

Today Canada was the victim of a low-grade 9/11-style coordinated terror attack. Shots were fired at four locations in Ottawa, including Parliament Hill and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. One Canadian Forces member is dead. So is his killer, Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, reported as Canadian-born and a recent convert to Islam.

Many have taken to social media to insist that Prime Minister Stephen Harper is to blame for this: that Canada is under such attack only because we have sent CF-18s to bomb ISIS militants in Iraq.

The logic is flawed, and the greater implications of it are nothing short of alarming.

The attack in which Zehaf-Bribeau participated is only one of two in the past week. Martin Rouleau, also a Canadian-born convert to Islam, attacked Canadian Forces members in what many have described as a Lee Rigby-style attack. (In actuality, Ahmad de Converti -- Rouleau's chosen name -- was far more cowardly than Rigby's murderers, who at least stayed to face the police who arrived to shoot them.)

Not long ago I wrote a blogpost noting that we're fighting ISIS in Iraq so that we don't have to fight them here. Well, as it turns out they're already here, and now we are fighting them here.

While I remain adamant that we must not treat Canada's Muslim populations as if they are all ISIS members or even as if they're potentially ISIS members, we can no longer deny that fighters for the Islamic State are walking amongst us. Perhaps not many, but clearly some. Two attacks within a week, with two victims, speak for themselves.

So suppose that we were to do what the various people who want to pin the attacks on Harper seem to want us to do: withdraw our warplanes from Iraq, abandon our alliance with Israel, and essentially allow them to dictate our foreign policy to us in order to placate these ISIS fighters already hidden in our midst. What would we have just done?

We would have just submitted to living under de facto occupation. Perhaps living under occupation by a force that we may not otherwise be confronted by, but under occupation no less.

We would have handed to ISIS, on a silver platter, Canada as their first conquest in an empire of fear.

I'd be tempted to tell these assorted defeatists (who seem to think we cannot defeat the Islamic State), partisans (who simply point the finger for political gain) and wannabe peaceniks (who seem to miss the detail that there can be no peace with organizations such as ISIS, by their own accord) that they're welcome to live like this.

But if they live like that, so do we all. So they aren't interested in it. And if they aren't content to face the reality of today's events then they just need to put a sock in it.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Rattling The Birdcage: CRA Audit of "Bird Watchers" is Spot-On

If you've been anywhere near the #CdnPoli Twittersphere over the past couple of days, you've heard a lot of chirping about it:the Canada Revenue Agency is investigating a bunch of bird watchers for political activity. Sounds ridiculous, right?

Well, not nearly so much. And it took Greg Renouf to reveal it.

I don't want to steal too much of Greg's thunder. I highly recommend visiting Genuine Witty and reading his story. I am, however, going to quote a specific snippet and add to his analysis.

From Greg's post:

"I spent the first minute of my investigation into this story by looking up the website for the Kitchener-Waterloo Field Naturalists and making my way to the About page. Once I arrived at the page it became immediately apparent this is more than just a group of “birdwatchers”- they’re a group that’s taken on the task of protecting and preserving wildlife. Shortly into my second minute I read the last line of the group’s objectives: 

'to support public interest in nature and its preservation by supporting the enactment of wise legislation and by other means that fall within the scope of the Corporation.'

The first problem is that supporting the 'enactment of wise legislation' is a whole lot more than simple birdwatching. The next problem here is that “supporting legislation” is not a charitable activity- but there’s no problem with that- unless they’re spending more than 10% of their resources on that activity. We’ll have to leave that up to the CRA to decide- that said, if you search the KWFN on Google News, they certainly do spend a lot of time pushing this mandate."

Greg's right. The Income Tax Act stipulates that purely political activity is to be limited to 10% of an organization's spending, and may not be a primary aim of the organization. Educational activity on political matters, however, is permitted; it's how think tanks qualify for charitable and non-profit status.

"Supporting the enactment of wise legislation" is inherently political. If KWFN had instead stipulated that "informing public policy" is a central goal of their organization, they'd clearly be in the clear. Clearly.

But this is a matter of semantics, right? Right? KWFN could be stating "supporting wise legislation" -- as in specific pieces of legislation they deem to be wise -- but then simply educating people as to the potential "wisdom" of this legislation, then letting people make up their own mind about those issues, right? Right?

Sorry. But no. From a column appearing in the KWFN newsletter:

"Ontario may be facing a spring election and time is running out to pass Bill 83 [an act protecting speech on environmental issues from SLAPP lawsuits]. Please ask your MPP and political leaders to pass this law."

A column educating readers about the potential benefits of Bill 83 without asking them to support it -- entrusting to them the task of making up their own minds about it, as educated people are wont to do -- would have been well within the rules stipulated by the Income Tax Act, which the CRA is obligated to enforce, This column, advising KWFN members to take specific political action in support of a specific bill, absolutely does not.

It looks like the KWFN are not entirely innocent victims after all. The Canada Revenue Agency's audit is entirely justified. In fact, it's entirely reasonable to wonder how they've gone this long without an audit, or how they received charitable status in the first place.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Phantom Menace, Pt II: Media Party's Outrage is Heavily Misplaced

No, it's not Attack of the Clones.

Previously on Bad Company I tackled the alarm raised about a series of emails exchanged between a consortium of Canadian media outlets about the use of copyrighted news footage in political advertisements. In 1988 a court case ruled that networks could not refuse to run an ad on copyright grounds, but the consortium is still threatening to do it in 2015.

Perhaps in response to or in anticipation of this, the Conservative Party has proposed to amend the Canada Copyright Act to allow for use of copyrighted news footage in political advertisements.

The Media Party immediately blew a gasket. And while the unequivocally unexplosive emails exchanged between various media bigwigs show no sign of collusion for political ends -- to my reading they seem genuinely and not-at-all-wrongly concerned about their copyrights -- the hands of media commentators are not nearly so clean.

Media commentators, on the other hand are frequently being downright hackish. They're overlooking the not-so-finer points of the matter and falling all over themselves to find something nefarious in all of this. Their greatest enabler so far has been copyright law expert Michael Geist. I don't dispute his expertise in copyright law, but his reading of elections law leaves a lot to be desired in his analysis of this amendment to the Copyright Act.

From Geist's column:

"...the proposal is very narrow. It would only apply to political parties, politicians, candidates, and their agents. The creation of an exception that only allows a select few to benefit is not a provision that can be defended on freedom of political speech grounds. We are all entitled to exercise our political speech rights. A new exception that guards against copyright stifling such speech should apply to all."

Really? Well, no. Let's look at the relevant section of the document Geist cites as his source:
Readers may want to do what Geist seems to have not done: read the bullet point before the one that refers to political parties.

"Proposed changes... would allow free use of 'news' content in political advertisements intended to promote or oppose a politician or political party or a position on a related issue."

That happens to be the Elections Act definition of third-party advertising. A registered third party is any group authorized to advertise in an election in support or opposition to a political party, or to promote or oppose a position on a related issue. Under the Elections Act, registered third parties are treated very much the same as a political party: they must have an official agent, report their expenses to Elections Canada, and are subject to spending limits.

In other words, for the purpose of the election, the registered third party is just that: a registered. Third. Party. Albeit a party that runs no candidates for election.

So while perhaps the next bullet point talks specifically about political parties, it's also helpful to note that it does so purely as a means of example -- that's what the "i.e." is meant to specify.

Don't expect anyone in the media party to correct this obvious mistake by Geist. As it turns out, Geist's error, even if they recognize it or not, helps them build up the idea that this is some nefarious hijacking of copyright law for political purposes. The fact that the amendment simply changes the Copyright Act (the legislation) to catch up to LPC vs CBC & CTV, 1988 (the case law) seems to be either entirely lost on them, or is simply being ignored. It wouldn't be the first time either transpired, especially where the Conservative Party happens to be involved.

And while the use of an ominbus budget bill to amend this legislation is a choice that is entirely open to be questioned (while omnibus bills are frequently used for such legislative "house-keeping," budget bills should contain the budget, and nothing else), that does not make the changes, in themselves, the sign of a malevolent or fascist government (as Don Martin recently suggested).

No matter how you slice it, there is more smoke than fire involved in this issue. It's just as simple as that.